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Here’s to the Mothers! A Brief Review of Protections for Women in the Workplace

With Mother’s Day around the corner, we are excited to look at the ways that New York is acting as a model to the rest of the country in support of working moms.

In honor of mothers, we want to call attention to the very real threats facing women in the workplace by sharing some of the laws that help protect against gender-based injustices at work, and our efforts to ensure economic security for women, particularly those who are low income.

Since 2016, we have relied on the Achieve Pay Equity Law, New York’s more progressive version of the federal Equal Pay Act. This law ensures that workers, regardless of gender, receive equal pay for equal work, unless the difference is attributable to a “bona fide factor” other than sex. Furthermore, New York City, passed the first law of its kind, which prohibits employers from asking about a job applicant’s salary history. This law seeks to make pay disparity a thing of the past by curtailing the insidious ways that previous gender discrimination, in the form of unequal pay, follows women to subsequent jobs. In addition, this law includes a measure to ensure that wage gaps are more easily discovered by prohibiting employers from preventing their employees from sharing wage information with one another. Similar legislation has been proposed at the state level.

As of January of 2018, working parents are protected under the New York’s Paid Family Leave law, which entitles nearly all workers to job-protected paid time off from work. Currently, this law permits up to eight weeks of paid family leave per year to bond with a new baby, take care of a sick loved one, or to help relieve pressures on military families. The amount of leave time and salary replacement will continue to increase until 2021. Once it is fully implemented, employees in New York will be able to take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave at a rate of 67% of their weekly average wage. This is the longest and most comprehensive paid family leave program in the country, and a powerful step towards workplace equality for working mothers. We strongly encourage men to avail themselves of this new law to help dispel deeply-rooted gender stereotypes about who are the primary “caretakers” and who are the “breadwinners” in our society. Only then, will we be able to dismantle structures and pernicious assumptions about gender that make it difficult for women to compete equally in the workplace.

Moreover, beginning in 2014, pregnant women and new mothers in New York City have relied on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy and childbirth. This law requires employers to “liberally grant” reasonable accommodations related to an employee’s pregnancy. PFWA has been critical in addressing the specific needs of working mothers to enable them to remain on the job while pregnant.

In addition, in 2016, the New York State Human Rights Law was amended to include a prohibition on employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of “familial status.” This provision was designed to protect caregivers who were denied employment, a promotion or were terminated or harassed because of their status as a caregiver.

Lastly, breastfeeding mothers have many rights under New York State Law. For example, all public and private employers in New York State are required to provide nursing mothers with break time to pump breast milk at work. Through this law, New York State illustrates the importance of protecting and encouraging nursing mothers so that they can continue to earn a living and provide for their families.

GELC recognizes the importance of economic security to New York’s vulnerable communities, particularly women of color, low wage-workers and LGBTQ persons, many of whom are parents. We honor these individuals, who should be able to continue working or return to work without penalty or deterrence. Having to choose between working and having a family is not equality. At GELC, we wholeheartedly support working parents and we celebrate all of them today and every day!

A few recommendations to help make workplaces a more equal place for women:

  • Pass family leave policies and federal legislation that is gender neutral, pays a livable wage and is job-protected.

  • Create a workplace culture that is supportive of all employees taking leave, including men. When men in senior positions avail themselves of family leave policies, it helps level the playing field as workers are evaluated under the same expectations that they, too, will have child care responsibilities and that women are not a workplace liability.

  • Support and develop programs to help women re-enter the workforce after starting or continuing their family.

  • Advance policies for accessible and affordable child care so that women, especially low-wage women, are able to return to or stay in the workforce longer.

  • Promote flexible work schedules, hours and locations. Lack of flexibility has a disproportionate impact on working women, who still are more likely to be the primary caregiver, especially for those who have young children at home.

  • Place more women in leadership roles, specifically in senior management. This will help create equal representation in decision making and a more equal balance in the workplace where women feel supported and encouraged.

  • Create workplace policies that encourage pay transparency and support legislation that prohibits employers from asking about an applicant’s salary history.

  • Elevate women and their voices and be sure to give credit for ideas when credit is due.


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