Sixty years ago, Congress outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex at work. But for many women, discrimination at work didn’t magically disappear. March is Women’s History Month, and it’s worth noting that while discrimination in the workplace persists, so do efforts to combat it. Over the last several years, those efforts have resulted in powerful new laws that provide added workplace protections for pregnant women and those facing sexual harassment or abuse. This month, it’s important to celebrate those gains as we continue the work of the past six decades to make all workplaces safe, fair and supportive.

Since 1978, it has been illegal to fire a woman for being pregnant. Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy has endured. An investigation by the New York Times in 2018 found pregnant women in the U.S. faced rampant employment discrimination. Women were fired when they asked for small changes in their jobs, such as more water breaks or light duty when pregnant.

Sexual harassment, which is sex discrimination, continues, as the #MeToo movement and cases such as Harvey Weinstein’s have shown. In Weinstein’s case, sexual harassment and sexual assault went together. Serial sexual harassers and rapists like Weinstein were protected and allowed to continue by requiring people who spoke out against the abuse to arbitrate their claims rather than file cases in court. And employers often insisted on nondisclosure agreements when workers started a job, preventing abuse from ever seeing the light of day.

Three new laws passed by Congress and signed by President Biden in the last several years aim squarely at these problems.

First, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act should help when a pregnant worker needs an adjustment like more water breaks, lighter duty or reduced exposure to chemicals. Employers must provide “reasonable accommodations” to a worker’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation will cause the employer a significant hardship. This law went into effect on June 27, 2023. (Like other discrimination laws, it only applies to employers with more than 15 employees). Those working for greater equality in the workplace have been seeking this reform for decades. It’s a huge step.

Second, the 2022 Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act prevents employers from barring workers from filing claims for sexual harassment and assault in court. No longer can employers require sexual harassment and sexual assault claims to be decided in private through arbitration. This is a commonsense, excellent reform.


Third, the Speak Out Act targets another employment practice that has stood in the way of equality. Employers sometimes required new workers to sign agreements that they would not disclose sexual misconduct issues on the job or disparage the employer. Congress found these agreements can support illegal conduct “by silencing those who are survivors of illegal harassment and assault and retaliation.” The Speak Out Act outlaws nondisclosure and non-disparagement clauses that were agreed to before a dispute involving sexual misconduct arose. Signed by President Biden in December 2022, this law supports women’s equality in a significant, practical way.

At this moment, abortion and abortion rights are a primary focus for many advocates of women’s equality. This is understandable. Yet, to reach the goal of true fairness, we must focus simultaneously on many aspects of inequality.

These important laws have received very little attention – most people I talk to have never heard of them. Education about these laws and their enforcement are both essential and can bring us closer to equality for women and, indeed, all workers. They target harmful aspects of inequality that law has only recently begun to address – and only has addressed because women have brought these issues to light, fought for equality, and persuaded many supportive men to also work for fairness.

This Women’s History Month, let’s loudly celebrate and spread the word about these reforms.

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