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Our Blog Understanding the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

 | Understanding the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) will mark a new era of protections for working mothers-to-be from pregnancy discrimination. Enacted to safeguard the rights and well-being of employees navigating pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions, this landmark legislation extends beyond the confines of mere antidiscrimination laws. It imposes a duty on employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers, provided it doesn’t result in an undue hardship for the employer. The PWFA, which goes into effect on June 27, 2023, is an addition, not a replacement, to existing federal, state, or local laws that protect pregnant workers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will issue proposed regulations to implement the law, inviting public comments before finalizing these rules.

From June 27, 2023, the EEOC will start accepting charges under the PWFA. It’s essential to note that the law will apply to situations occurring from this date onward. If a pregnant worker requires an accommodation before June 27th, they may be entitled to receive it under another federal or state law. Before the PWFA, protections for pregnant workers stemmed from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Even after the PWFA’s enactment, the EEOC will continue to evaluate charges concerning accommodation requests under the PWFA and, where relevant, the ADA and or Title VII.

The PWFA is designed to protect employees and applicants who work for “covered employers” and have known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or associated conditions. The term “covered employers” spans both public and private sector employers employing 15 or more workers, Congress, federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations. Under the PWFA, “reasonable accommodations” refer to modifications in the work environment or working conditions. Such accommodations could include allowing the worker to sit or drink water, offering closer parking, permitting flexible work hours, providing fitting uniforms and safety apparel, granting additional break time, allowing time off to recover from childbirth, or excusing the employee from hazardous or strenuous activities. The provision of these accommodations is incumbent on the employer unless it results in significant difficulty or expense – an “undue hardship.” Moreover, the PWFA prohibits employers from making certain decisions without engaging in dialogue with the employee. They cannot deny employment opportunities based on the need for reasonable accommodation, mandate leave when other reasonable accommodations could keep the employee working, retaliate against an individual for reporting PWFA violations, or interfere with any rights under the PWFA.

The PWFA works hand-in-hand with other federal laws, such as Title VII, the ADA, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, and the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act. These laws protect against discrimination, require reasonable accommodations for disabilities, provide job-protected leave, and ensure workplace protections for expressing breast milk, respectively.

The PWFA signifies a crucial step towards creating more inclusive workplaces for pregnant employees. It not only acknowledges the unique challenges faced by pregnant workers but also reaffirms their right to be treated with dignity and fairness. This new legislation underscores that pregnancy and fulfilling job duties should not be mutually exclusive, aiming to bridge the gap between pregnancy and professional life.

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