June 27, 2023

Are You Ready for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

On Dec. 29, President Joe Biden signed the PWFA, to become effective on June 27. Like many laws, the text can be complex, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has provided a summary of the key provisions.

What exactly is the PWFA?

In brief, says the EEOC, the PWFA requires “covered employers” to provide “reasonable accommodations” of a worker’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless the accommodation will cause the employer an “undue hardship.” It specifically applies only to accommodations. The EEOC already enforces existing laws that make it illegal to fire or otherwise discriminate against workers on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

Indeed, the EEOC stresses that the PWFA does not replace federal, state or local laws that are more protective of workers affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. More than 30 states and cities have laws that provide accommodations for pregnant workers. Companies still must follow the provisions of Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act.

Who is affected?

The PWFA protects covered employers’ employees and applicants who have known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Covered employers include private- and public-sector employers with at least 15 employees, Congress, federal agencies, employment agencies and labor organizations.

What exactly is a reasonable accommodation?

Reasonable accommodations are changes to the work environment or the way things are usually done at work. A few examples:

  • Allowing staff to sit or drink water as needed.
  • Providing more convenient parking.
  • Allowing flexible hours.
  • Giving staff properly sized uniforms and safety apparel.
  • Granting additional break time to use the bathroom, eat and rest.
  • Providing leave or time off to recover from childbirth.
  • Excusing staff from strenuous activities and/or activities that involve exposure to compounds not safe during pregnancy.

Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations unless they would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s operations. An undue hardship is a significant difficulty or expense for the employer.

What else does the law do?

Covered employers have other responsibilities under the law. For example, covered employers cannot:

  • Require an employee to accept an accommodation without a discussion about the accommodation between the worker and the employer.
  • Deny a job or another employment opportunity to a qualified employee or applicant based on the person’s need for a reasonable accommodation.
  • Require an employee to take leave if a reasonable accommodation can be provided that would let the employee keep working.
  • Retaliate against an individual for reporting or opposing unlawful discrimination under the PWFA or participating in a PWFA proceeding (such as an investigation).
  • Interfere with any individual’s rights under the PWFA.

Going forward

Expect more guidance. The EEOC is required to issue regulations to carry out the law. It will issue a proposed version of the PWFA regulations so the public can give their input and offer comments before the regulations become final. For now, companies should keep in close touch with professional advisers.

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