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Indiana Senate OKs optional pregnant worker accommodations

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP): Indiana legislators gave final approval to a bill that won’t require businesses to make accommodations for pregnant workers, despite an appeal from Gov. Eric Holcomb for a law requiring more protections.

The proposal allows a pregnant employee to request accommodations and requires the employer to respond in a reasonable time frame, but it does not mandate managers to grant any of those requests.

Such steps, such as longer breaks or transfers to less physical work, are cast by supporters as ways of improving Indiana’s infant mortality rate, which federal statistics show was the country’s 14th worst in 2018 with 525 infant deaths.

But Republicans who dominate the Legislature have sided with major business groups rather than the GOP governor on the issue. Lawmakers also rejected a separate Holcomb-backed bill last year that would have ensured similar accommodations.

“If we truly set forth to provide support and accommodations to pregnant workers to help ensure that they can get the help they need at work to stay healthy and safe through a pregnancy, then this is not the bill,” said Democratic Sen. Shelli Yoder, of Bloomington. “What this ends up doing is it gives legislators an opportunity to pat ourselves on the back to say we did something, we passed this, when really it’s more of a slap in the face of pregnant workers.”

The latest measure passed the House in February by a 95-2 votes as even lawmakers wanting tougher regulations supported it as a way of getting some protections for women into state law. Senators voted 31-19 on the bill Tuesday, sending the measure Holcomb.

Federal laws already require larger companies to provide pregnancy accommodations, but top Holcomb administration health officials have advocated for the state accommodations requirement as a way of helping pregnant women who don’t face clear rules in the workplace.

The governor said after the House advanced the weaker bill in February that his goal was “not going to come to fruition, that’s been a message received” from lawmakers.

Holcomb said he would issue an executive order ensuring such accommodations for state employees to demonstrate to business owners how such accommodations can work. He has yet to issue such an order.

Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray said many lawmakers were hesitant to put more regulations on businesses, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Some major business groups, including the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Manufacturers Association, additionally raised worries about possibly exposing more businesses to lawsuits by requiring them to provide accommodations.

“I feel that many women will come forward because of this bill. And the good companies will accommodate them. And the bad eggs — they won’t,” said bill author Republican Sen. Ron Alting, of Lafayette. “When you’ve been around this chamber a while, you’ll learn once in a while you better take what you can get. For many of us this bill is not far enough … but it’s a step in the right direction.”

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