Being pregnant can be a stressful experience for many workers, especially in the workplace. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) seeks to combat pregnant workers’ overwhelming and isolating feelings through expanding the protections and accommodations available to pregnant workers. The PWFA does not replace any of the federal, state, or local laws that are more protective of workers affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or other related medical conditions, but rather seeks to expand existing protections. Below are things to consider in the workplace when addressing this new law.

What is the Effective Date of the PWFA?

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act went into effect on June 27, 2023. As of June 27, 2023, the EEOC started taking charges under the PWFA. For the PWFA to apply, the alleged PWFA violation would have had to occur on June 27, 2023, or after.

Who does the PWFA Protect?

The PWFA protects “covered employees” with identified limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. “Covered Employees” include private and public employers with at least 15 employees, Congress, federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations.

What are the “Reasonable Accommodations” under the PWFA? 

“Reasonable Accommodations” are changes to the work environment or how things are usually done. Some examples of reasonable accommodations under the PWFA include: the ability to sit and drink water, receiving closer parking spaces, having flexible hours, receiving appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel, receiving 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.

The reasonable accommodation process requires an employer to engage in the interactive process with the employee to discuss and consider potential accommodations.

Employers must provide reasonable accommodations unless it would cause an “undue hardship” on the employer’s operations. An “undue hardship” is a significant difficulty or expense to the employer.

Things not to do under the PWFA

Covered employers cannot deny a qualified employee certain employment opportunities based on the need for reasonable accommodations. Employers cannot require an employee to take leave if they can provide another reasonable accommodation that would allow the employee to keep working. Furthermore, an employer should not retaliate against an employee who reports unlawful discrimination under the PWFA or participates in a PWFA proceeding. Lastly, employers cannot interfere with an individual employee’s rights under the PWFA.

Other Laws that Apply to Pregnant Workers  

The PWFA provides protections in addition to other laws, like Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Family Medical Leave Act, and The PUMP Act. The PUMP Act was also enacted in 2023, and the Department of Labor enforces it. The PUMP Act broadens workplace protections to pump breast milk at work, such as requiring reasonable breaktime and space for breast-feeding employees.  These protections extend for up to one year following the birth of a child.

Lastly, just remember as an employer when a pregnant worker comes to ask for a “reasonable accommodation”, it is essential to remember what that looks like for your work environment. It can be helpful to keep a fact sheet or something similar that you can refer to when talking with an employee about their “reasonable accommodation.

The attorneys at Fishel Downey regularly advise employers on employee health and accommodation issues. If you have a specific question or scenario and would like assistance, contact the attorneys at Fishel Downey Albrecht and Riepenhoff LLP at 614-221-1216.