The journey of pregnancy is undoubtedly a transformative and beautiful experience. However, it often presents unique challenges for women in the workforce. Recognizing the need to support pregnant and postpartum workers, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) has come into effect. This groundbreaking law guarantees pregnant and postpartum workers the right to reasonable accommodations without facing discrimination or retaliation. After a decade of efforts, PWFA is set to have a transformative impact on the work experiences of millions of pregnant individuals, granting them the power to ask for what they need to thrive in the workplace.
Understanding the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
The workplace should be a space where every employee feels valued, supported, and protected. The recently enacted Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a monumental step toward achieving just that. The PWFA, which became law on June 27, is a landmark civil rights law that aims to prevent the unjust treatment of pregnant and postpartum workers. By ensuring reasonable accommodations for known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions, the PWFA closes a significant gap in federal law.
The new ACT builds upon existing legislation like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and Family and Medical Leave Act. It ensures reasonable accommodations for individuals facing limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Importantly, it eliminates the need to prove disability or compare treatment with others, empowering pregnant individuals to request the necessary support to continue their employment journey.
Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, called the legislation’s passing “a historic victory,” in a press statement.
“Before this legislation, too often, when a pregnant worker needed a minor change in workplace duties or policies because of pregnancy, she was forced to take unpaid leave or be pushed out of work entirely- at a moment when she and her family could least afford it. Ensuring reasonable accommodations are available for pregnant workers is a win-win for workers who will continue doing their jobs during their pregnancies and for employers who will retain their workforce.”
The PWFA protects employees and applicants of covered employers, including private and public sector organizations with at least 15 employees, federal agencies, employment agencies, labor organizations, and even Congress. In addition to full-time workers, it also protects part-time, temporary and seasonal workers. The law requires that pregnant employees disclose their limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, post-partum conditions, or related medical conditions. It is important that pregnant workers are proactive and ask for what they need!
The Interactive Process
To ensure a smooth accommodation process, the PWFA requires employers to engage in a good-faith conversation with workers seeking accommodations. This dialogue, known as the “interactive process,” allows employers and employees to discuss needs and potential accommodations. Employers must respond promptly and consider alternatives if the requested accommodation poses challenges.
To assist both workers and employers in understanding and complying with the new law, the EEOC has provided various resources. These resources include a tip sheet on how to request accommodations, and a PWFA rights poster available in multiple languages. Employers can utilize these materials to educate themselves and their workforce on the rights and protections afforded by the PWFA.
Collaboration and Connection
Nearly one in four mothers has contemplated leaving their jobs due to the lack of pregnancy accommodations or fear of discrimination according to a 2022 Bipartisan Policy Center poll. Additionally, many women have been forced out or terminated for needing accommodations. Situations such as these have contributed greatly to the tangible wage gaps women face after giving birth. With this new law, pregnant women will no longer have to make the difficult decision between their health and job security, empowering them to continue their careers while ensuring their physical well-being.
The PWFA not only benefits the physical health of pregnant workers and new moms, but also emphasizes the importance of fostering a supportive workplace culture. By promoting positive relationships and reducing stress, pregnant employees can effectively manage their professional responsibilities while prioritizing their mental well-being. Furthermore, the law eliminates the dilemma of choosing between an unsupportive work environment and financial security for one’s family, thereby decreasing the likelihood of these employees leaving the workforce.
There is no standardized list of accommodations in PWFA. They are made on a case-by-case basis by collaboratively working with an employer. Accommodations can range from more flexible schedules to lighter duties. Some examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- Temporary transfer to a less physically demanding or safer role
- Allowing remote work options
- Modifying equipment, devices, or workstations
- Providing closer assigned parking spots
- Adapting uniform or dress code policies, including the allowance of maternity clothes
- Modifying work schedules, including later start times to accommodate morning sickness
- Assistance with manual labor and lifting
- Providing additional breaks and private lactation rooms
- Offering flexible schedules to attend doctors’ appointments
- Granting time off for bedrest, postpartum recovery, mastitis, and other related conditions
Employers don’t necessarily need to meet all of their pregnant employees’ requests, but they are, however, obliged to work with the employee to find a reasonable solution. Employers are also able to deny accommodation requests if it places an “undue hardship” on the company – meaning the request would be too difficult or costly to provide. The law also provides federal recourse through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for those facing resistance from their employers.
Under the PWFA, covered employers are prohibited from requiring employees to accept accommodations without discussion, denying job opportunities based on the need for accommodation, forcing employees to take leave when alternative accommodations are available, retaliating against individuals for reporting or opposing discrimination, or interfering with their rights under the PWFA.
Employers have a responsibility to familiarize themselves with the new law, provide reasonable accommodations, and create an inclusive and supportive environment for pregnant workers. The PWFA is a game-changer changer for pregnant and postpartum workers, ushering in a new era of fair treatment and accommodations. However, it is just the beginning. Further legislation is needed to address comprehensive work-family policies, including childcare reform, paid maternity leave, sick leave, and ongoing accommodations as children grow older. By continuing to advocate for these important changes, employers can create a nurturing environment that values the well-being of their employees and their families.