Understanding the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

July 16, 2023

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a groundbreaking legislation that aims to safeguard the rights and well-being of pregnant employees. But what does it mean for both employees and employers? In this post, we will explore the Act’s key provisions, its impact on employers, and how it supports pregnant and postpartum workers, providing a comprehensive understanding of this new piece of legislation.

Short Summary

  • The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is a federal law that requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers. It was designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace.
  • The PWFA's impact on businesses and how to provide reasonable accommodations.
  • Individuals can file a complaint with the EEOC regarding pregnancy discrimination within 180 days for remedies and resolutions in accordance with PWFA.

What is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a significant piece of legislation designed to protect pregnant employees from discrimination and ensure reasonable accommodations in the workplace. The Act applies to employers with fifteen or more employees, guaranteeing the rights of pregnant workers. These rights extend to employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions and may require paid or unpaid leave.

The PWFA guarantees the affirmative right to receive reasonable accommodations for known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. These accommodations must not pose an “undue hardship” on the employer. This ensures that a reasonable accommodation reached through collaboration is provided to the employee. A “qualified employee” can perform the essential duties of a position, with or without reasonable accommodations, although some exceptions may apply.

Throughout this article, we will refer to employees and/or applicants covered under this ACT as qualified employees. 

In anticipation of the enforcement of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act by the EEOC, both employers and workers must be well-versed in their respective obligations and privileges under this precedent-setting legislation. By collaboratively addressing the requirements of pregnant employees, the hope is to cultivate a work environment that's both fair and accommodating for all workers.

Key Components

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act outlines critical provisions to protect pregnant workers from mistreatment and guarantee their well-being. “Reasonable accommodation” refers to changes or alterations that provide equal opportunity and access for individuals with disabilities or hardships. These can range from changes to the employee’s daily tasks, the work environment, and updates to systems and processes. This enables qualified employees to access a job and carry out required tasks in the same way that regular employees do. The Act defines “undue hardship” as any action requiring “significant difficulty or expense.”

The collaborative process, as stipulated in the Act, entails employers engaging in constructive dialogue with employees who have requested reasonable accommodations to address their individual needs. This dialogue is intended to identify possible reasonable accommodation(s) that may meet those needs.

Comparison to Existing Laws

The PWFA fills gaps between the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) to provide comprehensive protection for pregnant employees. Employers are required by the Act to offer reasonable accommodations for any medical issues caused by pregnancy. They must do this, even if the conditions don’t count as disabilities.

The ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees with disabilities and requires them to provide accommodations. In contrast, the PDA prohibits employers from discriminating based on pregnancy in hiring and firing. The PWFA is specific to accommodations, whereas existing laws prohibit termination or discrimination of workers due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

The Impact on Employers

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act has a notable impact on employers, who are now required to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers without causing undue hardship. This can have an effect on employers in terms of costs and operational changes, as the cost of accommodations must be taken into consideration when evaluating undue hardship.

The Act mandates that employers must provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers without creating an undue burden. This means that employers need to carefully consider the needs of pregnant employees and make adjustments accordingly in order to comply with the Act.

Reasonable Accommodations

Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to address any known limitations due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. These accommodations may include the ability to sit or drink water, closer parking, flexible hours, appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel, and additional break time to use the restroom.

The PWFA does not explicitly define “reasonable accommodations” as each job and pregnancy is unique. Therefore, it is up to employers and employees to discuss and determine the accommodations that are most beneficial to both parties.

Undue Hardship

The Act defines “undue hardship” and outlines its application in the determination of reasonable accommodations—the assessment of undue hardship under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is based on factors such as accommodation cost and the employer’s financial resources.

Accommodations are deemed reasonable if they do not create an undue burden or hardship on a business’s operations. Employers must carefully consider the needs of pregnant employees and make adjustments accordingly while balancing the potential impact on their business.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations Under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Ensuring the rights of pregnant employees, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to their pregnant workers. It's essential to understand that these accommodations vary based on an individual's job requirements and personal health conditions. Below are examples of the more typical reasonable accommodations we’ve seen:

Flexible Work Hours

Work schedules can be adjusted to cater to medical appointments or combat fatigue that often comes with pregnancy. This may include flexible starting times, part-time work, or even remote work, where feasible.

Temporary Job Reassignment

If the current job role involves strenuous activities, the pregnant worker can be reassigned to a less physically demanding role temporarily.

Ergonomic Office Furniture

The provision of ergonomic furniture can improve comfort and prevent strain. An adjustable chair, for example, can provide the necessary lumbar support to a pregnant worker.

Increased Breaks

Providing more frequent or longer break periods can help manage pregnancy-related fatigue or discomfort.

Job Restructuring

Modifying job duties or removing non-essential functions that might be strenuous or risky for pregnant workers.

Leave of Absence

Granting leave when a pregnant worker is unable to perform her job functions due to pregnancy complications or childbirth or for pregnancy-related appointments.

Accessibility Improvements

This could involve providing closer parking spaces or ensuring the workplace is easily navigable for pregnant workers, reducing the need for excessive physical exertion.

These are representative examples and should not be viewed as an exhaustive list. Accommodations should be determined on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the specific needs and health condition of the pregnant employee. For pregnant workers, they must communicate with their employer about the adjustments they may require for the well-being of qualified employees.

How Employers can Support Pregnant and Postpartum Workers

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act supports pregnant and postpartum workers by addressing health, safety, and apparel concerns. Beyond providing reasonable accommodations, employers are encouraged to identify and avoid potential hazards that may pose risks to the health of their qualified employees under the PWFA.

Health and Safety Considerations

The Act emphasizes the importance of considering health and safety factors for pregnant employees. Pregnant employees should take extra caution when performing specific tasks. Exposure to chemicals, lifting heavy loads, working overnight or extended shifts, and sitting or standing for prolonged periods are some tasks that should be avoided or limited. This is due to the potential risks associated with these activities, including miscarriage, premature birth, low birth weight, urinary tract infections, and fainting, as outlined by health experts.

Employers should keep these health and safety considerations in mind when determining reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. This ensures that pregnant employees are not placed in a situation where their health and safety are jeopardized due to their pregnancy.

Safety Apparel

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act also addresses the need for appropriate safety apparel for pregnant workers. Safety apparel for pregnant and postpartum workers is specialized clothing designed to provide comfort and protection. National Safety Apparel provides women’s ultrasoft FR maternity work pants designed for the needs of female workers. Comfortable work shirts and maternity work pants in neutral colors are also recommended as essential items.

Safety apparel for pregnant and postpartum workers can offer comfort and protection, enabling them to work efficiently with assurance and help minimize the likelihood of harm or illness due to the physical requirements of the job.

Navigating Paid and Unpaid Leave

A pregnant woman in a business suit, discussing paid and unpaid leave with her employer

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act provides guidance on navigating paid and unpaid leave for pregnant employees. The Act mandates that certain employers provide leave to employees for situations related to the entire period from pregnancy to postpartum recovery. This may include paid leave for those who require time off for doctor’s appointments or medical reasons.

Paid Leave

The Act outlines the conditions under which paid leave may be granted to pregnant workers. Employers must offer reasonable accommodations to pregnant and postpartum workers, including paid leave unless it would cause an undue hardship for the employer.

Unpaid Leave

The Act also discusses the circumstances in which unpaid leave may be necessary and appropriate for pregnant employees. Unpaid leave may be deemed necessary and appropriate in the case of a pregnant or postpartum worker needing time off for recovery from childbirth, pregnancy loss, or postpartum depression.

Employers with six or more employees are required to provide unpaid leave for temporary disability due to pregnancy. However, there is no predetermined duration for leave, as each situation is unique.

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's Role

An image of a pregnant woman at work, highlighting the importance of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) plays a crucial role in enforcing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The EEOC is tasked with enforcing the Act, which mandates that covered employers must provide reasonable accommodations to a worker’s known limitations due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions unless such accommodations would cause the employer an undue hardship.

Filing a Complaint

The EEOC provides a platform for filing complaints about pregnancy discrimination and violations of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Individuals who believe they have been discriminated against in violation of the PWFA can submit a charge to the EEOC. The charge must be submitted within 180 days of the alleged discrimination.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will begin to accept complaints of employment discrimination under the Preventing Wage Theft Act on June 27, 2023. Charges must be filed within 300 days of the alleged violation. This is an essential milestone in ensuring pregnant workers receive the protections and accommodations they deserve.

Summary of Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act stands as a pivotal piece of legislation, endeavoring to safeguard the rights and well-being of employees who are expecting. It bridges the gaps between existing laws, such as the ADA and PDA, and fosters an inclusive and supportive work environment for individuals during pregnancy and postpartum. By placing significant emphasis on reasonable accommodations, health and safety considerations, and provisions for managing paid and unpaid leave, this Act aims to ensure the fair treatment of pregnant employees.

As the EEOC gears up to enforce the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, it becomes imperative for both employers and employees to comprehend their rights and responsibilities under this groundbreaking law. By collaboratively addressing the needs of pregnant workers, we have the power to cultivate a workplace that is not only more just but also supportive for all individuals.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

Employers with a workforce of at least 15 individuals fall under the jurisdiction of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a federal law. This legislation establishes the legal obligation of these employers to provide reasonable accommodations for their pregnant employees or those encountering pregnancy-related conditions. The act acknowledges the distinct obstacles workers face during pregnancy and strives to ensure their equitable treatment and protection against workplace discrimination.

What are some examples of reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers?

Employees in the prenatal and postnatal phases may necessitate adjustments, or reasonable accommodations, such as ergonomic seating, more regular breaks, adaptable work schedules, less physically demanding tasks, job reassignments, or provisions for lactation. The onus is on the employers to address these matters with empathy, open dialogue, adaptability, and due respect for personal boundaries, thereby fostering a conducive and supportive work environment.

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Understanding the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

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