PWFA Grants New Protections For Pregnant Workers

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The PWFA gives new protections to pregnant employees.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act imposes new requirements on employers and how they treat their pregnant employees.  On Tuesday, the EEOC started accepting charges for alleged violations of the PWFA.  So, employers need to know what the Act requires and how to comply.

The EEOC is still working on regulations implementing the PWFA.  But, they have also issued some guidance on their web page: What You Should Know About the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

It’s important to know where the PWFA sits in relation to other employment laws.  For example, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to treat employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions the same as other similar situated employees. Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires accommodation for certain impairments that are related to pregnancy — but many pregnancy-related conditions are not considered disabilities under the ADA.

The PWFA is therefore similar to the ADA but goes a step further — requiring  employers to provide reasonable accommodations for “the known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions of a qualified employee.”  But, accommodation is not required if an employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business.  The EEOC lists the following examples of accommodations for pregnant workers:

  • the ability to sit or drink water;
  • receive closer parking;
  • have flexible hours;
  • receive appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel;
  • receive additional break time to use the bathroom, eat, and rest;
  • take leave or time off to recover from childbirth; and,
  • be excused from strenuous activities and/or activities that involve exposure to compounds not safe for pregnancy.

In addition to requiring accommodations, the PWFA imposes restrictions on employers.  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 other employment opportunities to a qualified employee or applicant based on the person’s need for a reasonable accommodation;
  • Require an employee to take leave if another 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); or
  • Interfere with any individual’s rights under the PWFA.

This is a new law with minimal guidance.  So, when addressing the needs of pregnant employees, employers should proceed cautiously.

P.S.:  Employers need to update their EEO posters to reflect the PWFA requirements. Here’s the latest version from the EEOC: EEOC: Know Your Rights