By Naomi Adkins and Teri Mastando

Women in the workforce made a historic stride towards equality on June 27, 2023, when the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) came into force. This groundbreaking law now offers stronger protections against discrimination for pregnant and postpartum workers across the United States. According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, this act could positively impact approximately 2.8 million workers annually.

Understanding the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The PWFA requires “covered employers” to provide “reasonable accommodations” for workers experiencing pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. These accommodations should not impose an “undue hardship” on the employer, and it applies only to accommodations. However, existing laws already enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prevent employers from firing or discriminating against workers based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

The PWFA does not supersede federal, state, or local laws that offer greater protection to workers affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. Instead, it works in tandem with these laws, further enhancing the support structure for pregnant workers.

Regulations, Enforcement and Public Input

The PWFA went into effect on June 27, 2023. To support its implementation, the EEOC will issue regulations, which will be released in a proposed format for public input before they become final. This participatory process encourages diverse viewpoints and suggestions, strengthening the protections of the PWFA.

As of the Act’s implementation date, the EEOC began accepting charges under the PWFA, but the Act applies only to situations occurring on or after June 27, 2023. For pregnant workers who may have been denied accommodation before this date, other federal or state laws may offer protection.

Who Benefits from the PWFA?

The PWFA covers employees and job applicants of private and public sector employers with at least 15 employees, Congress, Federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations. These “covered employers” are now obligated to provide accommodations to those with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or associated medical conditions.

Reasonable Accommodations

“Reasonable accommodations” refer to modifications in the work environment or adjustments to standard workplace practices. Examples of such accommodations, as provided by the House Committee on Education and Labor Report on the PWFA, include:
• Offering additional, longer, or more breaks to eat, sit, drink or use the restroom
• Providing closer parking
• Allowing flexible hours
• Ensuring appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel
• Granting additional break time for restroom use, meals, and rest
• Providing leave or time off for medical appointment or to recover from childbirth
• Excusing pregnant workers from strenuous activities or those involving exposure to unsafe compounds for pregnancy

These accommodations are required unless they cause an “undue hardship,” defined as significant difficulty or expense, to the employer.

Additional Prohibitions under the PWFA

The PWFA also prevents employers from forcing an accommodation without discussion between the worker and employer, denying job opportunities based on the worker’s need for accommodation, requiring an employee to take leave if other accommodations can be provided that would keep the employee working, retaliating against an individual for reporting or opposing unlawful discrimination under the PWFA, or interfering with any individual’s rights under the PWFA.

The PWFA in the Context of Existing Laws

The PWFA is an addition to a broader suite of laws protecting workers affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. These laws include Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, and the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act). While each law has its specific enforcement agency and protective measures, they collectively strive to create a safer, more accommodating, and equitable workplace for pregnant workers.

With the PWFA, a new chapter in workplace equality and fairness begins, shedding light on the importance of worker rights during pregnancy and the postpartum period. This legislation is especially beneficial for the more than one million pregnant employees residing in the 20 states that lack state-level laws providing the right to reasonable accommodations. Thus, the PWFA signifies a substantial leap towards equality, fairness, and respect for the rights of pregnant and postpartum workers.

Sources: (copy of the statute)

CategoryEmployment Law, News
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