Expecting mothers could get new workplace protections under Washington bill

FILE: In this photo illustration a pregnant woman is seen stood at the office work station on July 18, 2005. (Photo illustration by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

New and expecting mothers could get new protections in the workplace and in hospitals under a wide-ranging bill aiming to promote healthy outcomes for women and their infants.

Senate Bill 5835 arrived to Washington Governor Jay Inslee's office on Tuesday after it passed the state House of Representatives unanimously earlier this month.

If signed, employers would be required to provide what the bill calls “reasonable accommodations.” This would include more frequent restroom breaks, readily accessible drinking water, food and seating, and scheduling flexibility for prenatal doctors’ visits for pregnant women.

A section of the bill reads: “Prenatal care is also critical for positive birth outcomes, and pregnant women have cited the need for flexibility in their work schedule for the purposes of attending doctor visits. Reasonable accommodations for pregnant women in the workplace can go a long way to promoting healthy pregnancies without producing an undue hardship on employers.”

Bill supporters believe this law would assure that women not have to choose between being able to work and having a healthy pregnancy.

"[If the bill is signed] both employers and employees will now have more clarity with regards to workplace accommodations for expectant mothers, and the important work of improving health outcomes for mothers and babies will continue," said Seattle Rep. Jessyn Farrell, who sponsored a companion bill in the House.

The bill also would require hospitals and health care facilities to provide post-delivery birth services based on medical best practices.

It would be required that hospitals establish policies and procedures for skin-to-skin placement so that the newborn be placed on the mother’s chest following birth – unless otherwise noted. Research finds that skin-to-skin contact leads to early initiation of breastfeeding.

While a policy for skin-to-skin placement is not mandated, Washington State Hospital Association told KIRO 7 News that most in-state hospitals are already participating in this initiative.

Sponsors of the bill believe the state is in a unique position to identify improvements for expecting mothers and children, because they report nearly half of all births in Washington State are funded by state resources.

Inslee has 20 days to sign the bill, but Democratic lawmakers already call it a positive step forward for women in Washington.