The Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is now in effect as of June 27. This act focuses on the requirement for employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant workers, bringing significant changes for both employees and employers. In this article, we will delve into what the PWFA entails and discuss strategies to ensure that your policies and practices align with its requirements.
Reasonable Accommodations Under the PWFA Act
The Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), signed into law by President Biden in 2022, introduces new requirements for employers with more than 15 employees. Employers are now obligated to provide “reasonable accommodations” to pregnant workers, including provisions for breastfeeding and childbirth recovery.
The PWFA aims to strengthen the existing protections established by the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. It ensures that employers offer reasonable accommodations unless doing so would impose “undue hardship” on their operations. According to the law, undue hardship refers to significant difficulty or expense for employers.1
It’s important to note that the PWFA does not replace more protective federal, local or state laws that already safeguard the rights of workers affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
The new pregnancy law includes several notable prohibitions, such as:
- Requiring an employee to accept a pregnancy work accommodation without engaging in a discussion between the worker and the employer regarding the accommodation.
- Denying employment opportunities to a qualified employee or applicant based on their need for reasonable accommodation.
- Mandating that an employee takes leave when alternative reasonable accommodation can be provided to allow them to continue working.
- These stipulations highlight the nature of PWFA legislation in championing open communication and fair treatment in the workplace, ensuring that pregnant workers receive the necessary support to perform their jobs without discrimination or unnecessary leave requirements.
Ensuring Your Policies PWFA Ready
Since the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) came into effect on June 27, 2023, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is now accepting PWFA charges. If you haven’t done so already, it is crucial to review your existing pregnancy accommodation policies and make the necessary revisions to align with the requirements of the PWFA.
A good starting point is to familiarize yourself with the reasonable accommodations outlined in the law. The House Committee on Education and Labor’s report on the PWFA offers several examples of reasonable accommodation. These include:
- Allowing the employee to sit or drink water as needed.
- Providing closer parking arrangements for convenience.
- Offering flexible working hours to accommodate medical appointments or pregnancy-related needs.
- Supplying appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel to ensure comfort and safety.
- Granting additional break time for bathroom breaks, eating, and resting.
- Allowing for leave or time off to recover from childbirth.
- Excusing the employee from strenuous activities that involve exposure to compounds that are unsafe for pregnancy.
By understanding these reasonable accommodations, you can assess how well your current policies align with the PWFA and make any necessary adjustments to ensure compliance. Creating a supportive and inclusive work environment is not only a great way to retain pregnant workers, it also demonstrates a commitment to the wellbeing of all employees.
In addition to the requirements of the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), there are important considerations that employers can implement when updating policies and providing.
Documentation and Record-Keeping
Maintaining accurate records pertaining to accommodations provided to pregnant employees is crucial. Employers may consider documenting all requests for accommodation, the steps taken to evaluate and address those requests, and the final resolutions. Comprehensive record-keeping not only helps in complying with the PWFA but also serves as evidence of compliance in case of any legal disputes.
Training and Education
To facilitate a smooth transition and effective implementation of the PWFA, employers are encouraged to provide training and education to their management teams and human resources staff. This training should cover various topics, including understanding the rights and protections of pregnant workers, recognizing the need for accommodations, handling accommodation requests effectively and preventing pregnancy-based discrimination in the workplace. By ensuring that all relevant personnel are well-informed about the requirements and provisions of the PWFA, employers can create an environment that supports the rights of pregnant workers and avoids any potential violations or misunderstandings.
How Does the PWFA Intersect with FMLA?
Both the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) aim to protect the rights of pregnant workers during pre-birth preparations, childbirth, and postpartum recovery and caregiving. While they share common goals, there are notable distinctions between the two.
The FMLA provides for 12 weeks of job-protected leave for eligible employees, allowing them to take time off to attend to their pregnancy-related needs. However, this leave is unpaid. On the other hand, the PWFA focuses on on-the-job accommodations for pregnant workers. It requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations that enable pregnant employees to continue working comfortably and safely.
The PWFA goes beyond the FMLA by raising the level of protection for pregnancy-related conditions. It recognizes that certain conditions, such as morning sickness and preeclampsia, should be treated as disabilities covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).2
Understanding the differences between the FMLA and the PWFA, can help employers comply provide the necessary support to pregnant workers throughout their journey.
Embracing the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act in 2023
Taking proactive steps to embrace the PWFA demonstrates a commitment to fairness and equality, benefiting both employees and employers. It helps create a positive work environment, reduces risk of legal disputes, and enables pregnant workers to remain productive and comfortable while contributing to the success of the organization.
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Disclaimer: This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Employers should consult with legal professionals to understand the specific implications of the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act and its application to their unique circumstances.
- Leslie Selig Byrd, Amy Karff Halevy and Caroline Melo. “New Protections for Pregnant and Nursing Workers in 2023”. shrm.org. Jan. 2023. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/legal-and-compliance/employment-law/pages/pregnant-nursing-employee-protections-.aspx
- Caroline, Colvin.” Pregnant Workers Fairness Act vs. FMLA: Where do they intersect?” HRdrive.com. Feb 2023. https://www.hrdive.com/news/pregnant-workers-fairness-act-fmla-anniversary/642573/