New Legislation for Pregnant Workers

Arbor Team

Pregnancy in the workplace often brings its own set of challenges––managing exhaustion, sickness, and scheduling healthcare appointments, all on top of regular job demands. And prior to the recent passage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), pregnant employees lacked clear protections against discrimination or denial of reasonable accommodations. But as of June 27, 2023, when the PWFA went into effect, pregnant workers have been guaranteed new rights and protections in the workplace.

What is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA)?

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which was passed in December and went into effect on June 27, 2023, is a new law that ensures the rights and well-being of pregnant workers in the United States. The new legislation requires covered employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant workers, according to the EEOC.

The PWFA is the product of decades of work and advocacy for pregnant workers. The law incorporates aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act to build upon legal precedent in interpreting concepts like “reasonable accommodations.”

Examples of “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant workers, as provided by the House Committee on Education and Labor Report on the PWFA, include:

  • More flexible hours
  • Closer parking spots
  • Appropriately sized uniforms and safety gear
  • More time to sit down
  • Additional breaks to use the bathroom, eat, drink water, and rest
  • Ability to be excused from strenuous activities unsafe for pregnancy
  • Time off to recover from childbirth

In addition to reasonable accommodations, the PWFA also prohibits covered employers from:

  • Requiring an employee to accept an accommodation without prior discussion
  • Denying employment or advancement opportunities based on a person’s need for a reasonable accommodation
  • Requiring an employee to take leave instead of providing reasonable accommodation that would enable them to keep working
  • Retaliating against a worker who reports or opposes unlawful discrimination under the PWFA
  • Interfering with any individual’s rights under the PWFA

Importantly, the PWFA does not override existing laws, at the federal, state, or local level, that are more protective of pregnant workers. This includes existing EEOC laws such as Title VII and the ADA, laws enforced by the US Department of Labor such as the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, and the PUMP Act, and over 30 related state and city laws.

What does this mean for employers?

The PWFA applies to private and public sector employers with at least 15 employees, Congress, Federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations. This new law introduces new responsibilities for employers, emphasizing the need for flexibility, understanding, and open communication when addressing the needs of pregnant workers and those affected by childbirth or related medical conditions.

Below are some best practices for employers to comply with the new legislation:

  • Provide Reasonable Accommodations: Offer “reasonable accommodations” for pregnant workers. This mirrors the ADA's approach to disabilities but specifically targets pregnancy-related issues.
  • Engage in Dialogue: Before making decisions, engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine suitable accommodations. This should be a timely and constructive conversation.
  • Avoid Assumptions: Refrain from making unilateral decisions based on perceived safety concerns for the pregnant employee. Every decision should be rooted in facts and mutual understanding.
  • Update Policies and Training: Revise your HR policies to reflect the PWFA's requirements. Additionally, invest in training sessions for managers and HR teams to ensure they're well-versed with the new law.

The EEOC interprets the PWFA broadly, so employers should be prepared to accommodate a diverse array of pregnancy-related conditions. Failure to comply can result in serious legal repercussions, including lawsuits for discrimination.

The recent enactment of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) has ushered in a new era of workplace rights and responsibilities. As an employer, it's crucial to understand and adapt to these changes to build an inclusive workplace.

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