As leaders in the fight for the millions of workers and students responsible for providing care for their loved ones, 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.
Over the last 50 years, workers’ rights advocates have made important advancements in securing the rights of parents and caregivers– however the work is not done. Historically, many groups have been excluded from this movement and now is the time to create long-lasting change centered around low-income caregivers of color. Our role as WorkLife Law is to promote legal rights where they exist and advance the law where they do not.
Our organization has celebrated exciting successes over the last 25 years. 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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Safeguarding Reproductive Rights
Our bodily autonomy is under attack. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe vs. Wade, pregnant and lactating people seeking safe reproductive healthcare confront endless barriers, many of which intersect with employment and education. This negatively impacts women’s health, economic security, and social mobility– especially for low-wage workers and students of color. Women of color are significantly more likely to face discrimination during pregnancy and the postpartum period, reinforcing alarming health disparities, pushing new mothers into poverty and diminishing their lifetime earning potentials, and much more. Furthermore, employers routinely deny pregnant workers the temporary accommodations needed to maintain a healthy pregnancy, and deny nursing parents the ability to pump milk on the job.
Fortunately, in the final days of 2022, President Biden signed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) which is the first federal pregnancy discrimination legislation in 45 years, and the PUMP Act which is the first standalone federal breastfeeding bill in history. These laws have enormous potential to ensure pregnant and nursing people get the fair treatment they desperately need, so WorkLife Law is working hard to ensure the laws are upheld to their fullest extent. We are also acting quickly – following the Supreme Court’s decision taking away the constitutional right to abortion – to empower pregnant workers and students through our free legal helpline — the only one in the nation proactively reaching out to workers and students with information tailored to their abortion rights at work and school.
- We have reformed medical practice by providing a best practices roadmap to prenatal care providers with the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology, giving grand rounds and lectures at nearly three dozen medical institutions, and publishing articles in five major peer-reviewed medical journals capaciting healthcare providers to support pregnant and postpartum workers.
- WorkLife Law’s Dar a Luz staff were leaders in securing 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 were the first organization in the country to release “know-your-rights” guides for workers and students following the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which have been accessed nearly 10,000 times.
“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, ob-gyn for farmworkers and advisor to Dar a Luz: Legal Rights for Farmworkers During Pregnancy and Postpartum
Protecting Caregivers and Their Family’s Health
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 lactating 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 and dependent family members.
Our legal advocacy secures new rights at work and school for pregnant and parenting people. We work diligently with federal and state government agencies to strengthen legal rights for caregivers and people who are pregnant and nursing. 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, the American College of Nurse-Midwives, the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee, WIC, and other community health workers and healthcare experts.
- WorkLife Law Founder Joan Williams and thought partner Cynthia Thomas Calvert coined 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 Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers (“PUMP”) Act, historic legislation that was based on a model from WorkLife Law and partners.
- We have helped thousands of workers keep their jobs, access paid leave, and request accommodations while pregnant or providing family care through our WorkLife Law Helpline.
- WorkLife Law’s Attorney Network matches caregivers with 200+ experienced litigators in employment discrimination matters and provides free litigation consulting for members– nearly 2/3 of plaintiffs win their caregiver cases in federal court, an unheard-of success rate in employment discrimination cases.
“We wouldn’t even have the legal concepts of family responsibilities discrimination or maternal wall bias if it weren’t for Joan Williams and the Center for WorkLife Law.” -Gillian Thomas, Author of Because of Sex: One Law, Ten Cases, and Fifty Years That Changed American Women’s Lives at Work
“I have been approved for my time of leave. My girls and I are so excited that I will be home… My older daughter dropped to her knees and cried, thanking me for being able to take the time off to help them.” -WorkLife Law COVID Helpline Caller who received our assistance in accessing paid leave during the pandemic
Strengthening Economic Security
When people are repeatedly forced to choose between a paycheck and their family’s wellbeing, 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 provided support to low-wage workers through free legal helplines, offered technical assistance to civil rights attorneys nationwide, and produced cutting-edge research in support of policies that have ensured caregiving responsibilities don’t cause families to fall into poverty.
- Our resources for policy change shaped Senator Cory Booker’s proposed federal policy to protect workers from losing their incomes because of caregiving, and has likewise influenced similar legislation in states and localities across the country.
- When caregivers were suddenly losing their jobs because of their responsibilities during the COVID-19 crisis, our attorneys immediately launched a free legal helpline and saw an 800% increase in calls, with a vast majority coming from low-wage women of color.
- WorkLife Law’s Dar a Luz initiative has assisted farmworker women across the state of California to recover 70% of their wages in disability benefits when they are out of work during pregnancy.
“The result of my case ended in my favor due to [WorkLife Law’s] outstanding assistance. This email is to make you aware of how highly grateful I was of [your attorneys] to assist me in the most drastic time of my life.” –Tynishia, high-risk pregnancy helpline caller at risk of losing her job
“Your report was fantastic and beautifully done…it gave critical background for anyone who didn’t really understand the issue [of discrimination against breastfeeding workers].” -Policy Director for U.S. Senator
Advancing Education Equity
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 – the only program of its kind in the country – pioneered the use of Title IX to make the case that policies enabling pregnant and parenting students to complete their education is not only best practice, but also required by federal law. Now the program is dedicated to addressing the legal rights of pregnant and parenting students and providing technical information to higher education administrators, to ensure the strongest policies possible are provided.
- Our Pregnant Scholar Hotline has helped hundreds of pregnant and parenting students negotiate the academic changes 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
“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 and Gender Justice
Our diverse team of attorneys centers equity in everything it does. We partner 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 in relevant languages and direct support to workers and students facing discrimination. We partner with community-based organizations across the nation serving Black and Brown communities by providing technical legal assistance, drafting and reviewing know-your-rights materials, and training members and organizers on legal rights.
Our Bias Interrupters program is designed to help 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 give companies tools to take action in hiring, 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 racial and gender bias in the workplace.
- Our Bias Interrupters web pages have been accessed over half a million times by individuals and companies around the world.
- Before our intervention at one company, 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%
- Our Pregnant Scholar program has served over hundreds of thousands of pregnant students, who are disproportionately BIPOC women facing barriers to finishing their degrees because of caregiving. Two in five Black women college students are mothers.
- WorkLife Law’s Dar a Luz helpline provides free services to farmworker women in Mixteco, Zapoteco, and other relevant indigenous languages.
“Being indigenous and having family members that are indigenous, this is incredibly important work – the legal world is very confusing and we appreciate the time and energy and legal advocacy that is going into this project. We understand the power of knowledge and of knowing your rights.” -Executive Director of an Indigenous-led community organization