As leaders in the fight for working and studying family caregivers, the Center for WorkLife Law is an advocacy and research organization committed to advancing racial, gender, and class equity. At WorkLife Law, we address inequality at the national level and in states around the country by 1) promoting structural policy change in workplaces and school, 2) offering direct assistance to workers and students facing discrimination, and 3) providing technical support for litigation that expands legal rights.
Today’s landscape for parents and caregivers is one of unparalleled risks, but also one of opportunities that only come only once in a generation. Our role as WorkLife Law is to promote legal rights where they exist and advance the law where they do not.
Over the last 25 years, our organization has celebrated exciting successes, especially as our team grows. Namely, we have seen our impact through protecting caregivers and children’s health, safeguarding reproductive rights, strengthening economic security, advancing education equity, and centering racial and gender justice.
Areas of Impact
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Protecting Caregivers and Their Family’s Health
- WorkLife Law Founder Joan Williams and thought partner Cynthia Thomas Calvert established the term “Family Responsibilities Discrimination” (FRD) twenty years ago and pioneered the research behind this area of law.
- Our groundbreaking report “Exposed: Discrimination Against Breastfeeding Workers” provided the rallying cry for the first-ever federal standalone breastfeeding statute, which was signed into law in 2022 as the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP) with language from our team who helped draft this historic legislation.
- Our Senior Advisor Cynthia Thomas Calvert was the lead author of the legal treatise Family Responsibilities Discrimination published by Bloomberg Books in 2014 and 2016.
- Under the ADA, we developed a legal theory to secure the rights of pregnant workers that became widely accepted through our advocacy by courts, attorneys, employers, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Our team has given grand rounds and lectures at nearly three dozen medical institutions and published articles in 5 major peer-reviewed medical journals capacitating healthcare providers to support pregnant and postpartum caregivers.
The well-being of mothers, caregivers, and children has been neglected in state and federal workplace policies for too long. Their health is our priority; we aim to change existing structures by helping pregnant and breastfeeding workers access the job accommodations, safe workplaces, and paid leave they need to maintain a healthy pregnancy, continue nursing, and care for their young children.
Our legal advocacy secures new rights at work and school for pregnant and parenting people. We work diligently with the Department of Labor, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the Department of Education, as well as state agencies, to strengthen legal rights for people who are pregnant, seeking abortions, experiencing pregnancy loss, and caregivers. We empower medical professionals with practical tools to support their patients with work accommodations and leave through our ongoing partnerships with the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology (ACOG), the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM), WIC counselors, and other community health workers and healthcare experts.
“The expressions thought leader or thought partner get thrown around so much as to be almost meaningless. But here the labels really do accurately state what the Center for WorkLifie Law is and does. After all, we wouldn’t even have the legal concepts of family responsibilities discrimination or maternal wall bias if it weren’t for Joan Williams and Center.” -Senior Staff Attorney
“[Staffer] from [U.S. Senator’s] office started off the call by saying that your report was fantastic and beautifully done, and that it gave critical background for anyone who didn’t really understand the issue—he said he wished he’d printed it and read it long ago. I know you can’t lobby, but your work is serving as a really important resource for legal reform.” -Senior Attorney at National Civil Rights Organization
Safeguarding Reproductive Rights
- We were the first organization in the country to release “know-your-rights” documents for workers and students following the Supreme Court’s Roe v Wade decision, which has been accessed nearly 10,000 times.
- Our attorneys & other advocates secured paid time off for pregnant farmworkers to avoid exposure to toxins during the early months of pregnancy by persuading the California Employment Development Department that pesticide exposure should make them eligible for disability benefits.
- We reformed medical practice across the country by co-writing ACOG’s Committee Opinion on Employment Considerations During Pregnancy and the Postpartum Period.
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, people seeking safe reproductive healthcare face threats of criminalization and barriers at every step, especially if they are poor. Many of these barriers intersect with employment and education, not only negatively impacting women’s health, but also their economic security and social mobility. While wealthier people can continue to get abortions, now lower-income workers and students are more likely to be forced into pregnancy and giving birth. The area of law at the intersection of employment, education, and reproductive rights is complex and widely misunderstood.
WorkLife Law is acting quickly to empower tens of thousands of pregnant workers and students through know-your-rights resources and our free legal helpline— the only one in the nation proactively reaching out to workers and students particularly with information tailored to their reproductive legal rights, specifically at work and schools. Our staff is also equipping thousands of healthcare providers with knowledge and practical tools to support their patients who need time off from work or school and reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, abortion, and childbirth.
“When I was two months pregnant, I asked my doctor to put me on disability. I felt ill and had a lot of nausea and vomiting. I worked in the strawberry crop … I was very tired. I was also worried because chemicals would get sprayed frequently on the strawberries. The doctor put me on leave and things went well. In a previous pregnancy, I was not put on disability until I was almost 9 months pregnant because I was told pregnancy was not an illness. It was very difficult. No one would explain what my rights were. Not my employer or my doctor.” -Jacinta, Farmworker with Dar a Luz
“Dar a Luz is the project I’m most excited about right now. If I could do one thing that would most impact my patients, it would be this.” -Dr. Carolyn Griffith, advisor to Dar a Luz who treats pregnant farmworkers
Strengthening Economic Security
- Nearly 2/3 of plaintiffs win their cases in federal court: This unheard-of success rate in employment discrimination cases is due to our two decades of offering free consulting to workers’ attorneys on how to litigate caregiver discrimination cases deterring companies from pushing pregnant people and mothers out of the workforce.
- For more than 20 years, our WorkLife Law Hotline has helped 2,300+ workers keep their jobs while pregnant or providing family care.
- Senator Cory Booker proposed a federal policy to protect workers from losing their incomes because of caregiving. Our model state statute and resources for policy change has influenced similar legislation in states and localities across the country.
When people are repeatedly forced to choose between a paycheck and their family’s well being, economic security is always beyond reach. Our aim is to prevent this impossible decision by leveraging our deep legal expertise in caregiver discrimination so workers keep their jobs and pregnant and parenting students complete their education without compromising their family’s wellbeing.
Our WorkLife Law attorneys have pioneered legal theories and best-practice employer policies, provided support through free legal helplines, offered technical assistance to plaintiffs’ attorneys nationwide, maintained [email protected] resources, and offered support to students through our Pregnant Scholar initiative.
“I wanted to inform you of how phenomenal, professional and punctual they have been with my case. The two of them played a very substantial role in getting me what I needed and assisting me with my case. The result of my case ended in my favor due to their outstanding assistance. This email is to make you aware of how highly grateful I was of Jessica and Joe to assist me in the most drastic time of my life.” –Tynishia, high-risk pregnancy helpline caller
“I have been approved for my time of leave. So, my girls and I are so excited that I will be home to help with homework. My older daughter . . . dropped to her knees and cried thanking me for being able to take the time off to help them.” -WorkLife Law Hotline Caller
Advancing Education Equity
- Our Pregnant Scholar Hotline has helped hundreds of pregnant and parenting students negotiate the accommodations they need to stay in school
- We have trained thousands of university administrators on pregnant student’s Title IX legal rights
- Dozens of universities and colleges across the country have adopted our best-practice policies—from the University of California, Berkeley to Pueblo Community College
- Our Pregnant Scholar program has served over hundreds of thousands of students
College completion is a major challenge for pregnant and parenting students. Given that first-generation students, low-income folks, and students of color are disproportionately affected, the lack of support is a significant contributor to racial and class disparity in education. Our Pregnant Scholar initiative pioneered the use of Title IX to make the case that policies enabling pregnant and parenting students to complete their educations are not only best practice, but also required by federal law.
Pregnant Scholar initiative is the only program in the country dedicated to addressing the legal rights of pregnant and parenting students. We also provide support and technical information to higher education administrators, to ensure the strongest policies possible are provided.
“Now that we have your help we’re seeing 20 years’ worth of work we haven’t made progress on happening in a semester.” -Community college professor/advocate for student parents
Centering Racial & Gender Justice
- Our Bias Interrupters webpages, including our open-source toolkits, have been accessed over half a million times by individuals and companies around the world.
- Before our intervention at one medium-sized organization, only 10% of people of color received mentions of their leadership skills in performance evaluations. One year later, with our help, that number jumped to 100%.
Racial justice is central to our legal and policy work. Our diverse team of attorneys partners with organizations led by and committed to serving Black, Brown, and Indigenous people. Informed by their guidance, our strategies reach diverse communities with information about legal rights and direct support to workers and students facing discrimination. We often provide critical technical assistance to small grassroots organizations as well as programs with wide national reach like Women, Infants and Children (WIC).
Our Bias Interrupters program has helped companies across the world address systemic racism (and sexism) by interrupting bias in basic business systems. Our training, best practices and model policies, and open-source toolkits empower companies to take action during the hiring process, performance evaluations and other systems. While corporations allow us to study their workforce, we are also gathering data to research what is necessary to eliminate bias in the workplace.