by Denis M. Fitzgibbons, Attorney, Fitzgibbons Law
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which took effect June 27, is designed to protect and empower pregnant employees. It aims to eradicate workplace discrimination against expectant mothers and ensure they receive fair treatment and reasonable accommodations during their pregnancy.
The Act applies to all private and public employers with 15 or more employees and serves as a bridge with existing federal laws, such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, to address the unique challenges faced by pregnant workers.
One of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act’s key provisions is the requirement for employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” that reflect a worker’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.
Such accommodations may include more frequent restroom breaks, modified work schedules, assistance with heavy lifting, allowing temporary transfers to less physically demanding positions, and providing a private space for expressing breast milk.
These adjustments aim to promote a healthy and safe working environment for expectant mothers, reducing during pregnancy the risks associated with the physical demands of certain jobs.
To determine reasonable accommodation, the employer must engage in an interactive process with pregnant employees to determine appropriate steps that allow them to continue performing their duties safely and effectively.
The reasonable accommodations requirement carries an exception in cases where providing the accommodation would impose an “undue hardship” on the employer. The burden is on the employer to establish that the accommodation would be significantly difficult or expensive.
The new law also prohibits retaliation against employees who seek accommodations or assert their rights under the Act. Employers are now mandated to treat pregnancy-related requests and complaints with the same level of seriousness as any other workplace matter, safeguarding pregnant employees from any form of adverse treatment based on their pregnancy status.
To comply with the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, employers should review and update policies for pregnant applicants and employees, alert their supervisors to the Act and its requirements, maintain open communications with pregnant workers, and work with them for the best solution.
By requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations and protecting pregnant employees from discrimination and retaliation, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act empowers expectant mothers to thrive in their careers while preparing for the life-changing experience of motherhood.