Pregnant Workers Fairness Act at Work: Here’s What You Need to Know

Introduction

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) was signed into law by President Biden on December 29, 2022, and officially went into effect on June 27, 2023. This new law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers who need them due to pregnancy, childbirth, or other related medical conditions unless the accommodations would cause “undue hardship.” 

According to a 2022 report by the National Partnership for Women & Families, almost 3 million workers could be affected by the law. This blog will cover background, what employees need to know about their rights, what employers need to know about compliance with the new law, and how to support pregnant workers.

Background 

Pregnant workers have historically faced barriers to employment. In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was passed:

  • prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, classifying it as sex discrimination; and
  • establishes that pregnant workers be treated the same as non-pregnant workers.

Thousands of workers have historically been denied reasonable accommodations due to an existing gap in the PDA, which did not guarantee accommodations for pregnant workers. Before the PWFA, workers had to prove the employer gave another worker an accommodation in a similar situation. 

The PWFA puts protections in place to ensure that workers have the right to reasonable accommodation related to their pregnancy. In addition to PDA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects workers, specifically those with pregnancy-related disabilities. The ADA requires employers to provide accommodations for pregnancy-related disabilities. 

The lack of required accommodations has been reported to impact moms in the workforce significantly. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 23 percent of moms have considered leaving their job because of a lack of accommodations and fear of discrimination during pregnancy. This groundbreaking legislation addresses a gap in federal law and ensures pregnant workers can continue working safely and receive important accommodations. 

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act – Coverage and Accommodations

An “undue hardship” is a significant difficulty or expense for the employer. For example, having modified work schedules or flexible hours is an example of a reasonable accommodation that would not cause undue hardship to an employer.

Employers with 15 or more employees are covered under the law in the private and public sectors; Congress, federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations are also covered under the law. 

Examples of reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to:

  • flexibility in breaks taken by the worker to use the restroom, eat, or drink water;
  • flexible hours;
  • the ability to sit for extended periods;
  • receiving appropriate-sized work apparel; and 
  • taking leave to recover from childbirth.

Learn more about examples of reasonable accommodations here

Employees and employers should pay attention to what is prohibited under the PWFA. Under Section 103 of the law, employers cannot:

  • fail to reasonably accommodate known limitations of pregnant employees unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business operations;
  • require a pregnant employee to accept an accommodation other than one arrived at through an interactive process;
  • deny employment based on the employer’s need to make reasonable accommodations to a pregnant employee;
  • require a pregnant employee to take paid or unpaid leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided; or
  • take adverse action in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment against a pregnant employee requesting or using reasonable accommodations.

Your Rights and Asking for Reasonable Accommodations

Are you seeking accommodations related to your pregnancy? It can be stressful to talk to your employer about these topics. If you’re seeking pregnancy-related accommodations, we have gathered information that may help with the next steps. 

  • A Better Balance published a letter workers can use to request accommodations from their employer and generally inform them about the law. 
  • Remember that you have the right to reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions, with the exception of the “undue hardship” provision.
  • Under PWFA, employers must engage in the “interactive process” with the worker seeking accommodations. The conversation with the worker, employer, or HR professional will address your job duties, your personal needs, and the accommodations to those duties. These conversations may occur in person, over the phone, or via email. 

Employers and PWFA

There are numerous ways employers can support pregnant workers or working parents. While the EEOC has not issued specific guidance yet for employers, here are a few ways you can take action:

  • The EEOC recently held a webinar, “EEOC’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. What Employers Need to Know.” This webinar gives employers a background on current federal laws. It provides context on the gap in law before PWFA, key definitions, examples of reasonable accommodations, prohibited practices, retaliation and coercion, procedures, available relief, and related laws. Finally, they close with resources for employers.
  • Take the time to understand reasonable accommodations. While the guidance from EEOC will provide a thorough understanding of your role, you can familiarize yourself with the reasonable accommodations listed here. After doing so, make sure your policy or handbook is updated for employees. 
  • Beyond updating policies and educating yourself on the new law, educate your workplace on the new laws. Supervisors who work closely with employees and HR professionals should be trained to be familiar with and prepared to take on employee requests. In addition, make sure your employees are aware of the law and their rights. 
  • Remember: most changes are relatively simple to implement and will not cost much. These accommodations are vital in ensuring that pregnant workers can continue working while being safe. These accommodations are vital and make a significant difference. 

Other Federal Laws Related to PWFA

There are other laws, as previously mentioned, that provide protections for pregnant workers. These laws include Title VII, ADA, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the PUMP Act

Filing a Complaint

If your employer does not comply with the PWFA, workers can file a complaint with the EEOC as of June 27. It is important to note that for PWFA to apply, the EEOC will accept charges for events occurring on or after June 27. Learn more on the EEOC website, where they have published additional resources.

Conclusion

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a significant victory in protecting the rights of pregnant workers. Notably, more than 30 states and cities have laws that require accommodations for pregnant workers. PWFA will not replace state and local laws that are more protective. We will keep you informed as we learn more about the new law and guidance. 

Additional Resources

About the Author: Shafuq Naseem is a graduate of George Mason University with a degree in Government and International Politics. Her personal, professional, and academic experience with labor and employment issues fuels her passion for workers’ rights. In her role at Workplace Fairness, she edits and creates legal content, and assists with special projects such as the podcast.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.