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New Federal Law Adds Protection for Pregnant Workers

On June 27, 2023, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) became effective.  It impacts employers with fifteen or more employees and provides protections that are distinct from, and in addition to, benefits provided to FMLA eligible employees.  The new law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers unless doing so would cause the employer an undue hardship.  Employers need to reasonably accommodate known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.  The EEOC is issuing regulations for employers.  Additionally, the EEOC oversees charges relative to the new law.

Who is impacted:  Private and public employers with at least 15 employees and includes Congress, federal agencies, employment agencies and labor unions.  This is a much lower threshold than many other labor laws.

What actions employers need to take:  Approach any requests or communications relative to PWFA as an ADA accommodation discussion.  These need to be interactive conversations as the PWFA prohibits employers from attempting to force the employee to accept a proposed accommodation.    

What might be considered reasonable accommodations:  According to the EEOC, reasonable accommodations may include appropriate uniforms, closer access to the work area, remote or flexible work, additional break time, and excusal from strenuous work and other accommodations.

What is an undue hardship:  The EEOC defines an “undue hardship” as a significant difficulty or expense for the employer. 

What are employee prohibitions under PWFA?  The employer must have a discussion with the employee and not require the employee to accept the proposed accommodations.  They may not deny jobs, opportunities, or promotions based on PWFA accommodations.  They cannot require an employee covered by the PWFA to take a leave if other accommodations are available to allow the employee to continue working.  Finally, they may not retaliate and/or discriminate against individuals reporting or participating in PWFA proceedings.

What other federal laws apply?  Title VII protects an employee for discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.   The ADA provides protection to disabled employees (pregnancy may qualify as a disability if it impacts a major life function). If the employer has 50 or more employees, employees may be entitled to FMLA leave.   

Employees can learn more by contacting an experienced employment law attorney or by reviewing resources available at the EEOC. 

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