The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) has recently been signed into law by Joe Biden as part of the comprehensive Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023. This Act aims to provide additional protection to pregnant workers and will take effect on June 27, 2023. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees and is designed to fill the gap left by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The Legal Landscape for Pregnant Workers
Every year, numerous pregnant women experience job loss, either through termination or being placed on unpaid leave, due to a lack of obligation for employers to provide reasonable accommodations. The PWFA, however, is changing this by requiring employers to modify their policies to include employees who encompass any physical or mental conditions related to, impacted by, or arising from pregnancy, childbirth, or associated medical conditions, regardless of whether they meet the definition of disability under the ADA. This law makes it illegal for an employer to:
- Refuse reasonable accommodations related to the pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum, or related medical conditions of a qualified individual unless the employer can demonstrate that accommodating would create an undue hardship (really difficult or expensive).
- Compel a qualified individual to accept unreasonable accommodation through the interactive process.
- Deny employment opportunities to a qualified individual based on the need for reasonable accommodation.
- Force a qualified individual to take leave if another reasonable accommodation is available.
- Take adverse employment actions against a qualified individual due to the request or use of reasonable accommodation.
Employers may avoid damages by making good-faith efforts to consult with the employee and provide an equally effective and non-hardship-causing accommodation. Accommodation can look like this:
- Permitting more frequent bathroom breaks.
- Assigning tasks with lighter physical demands.
- Providing a stool to sit on.
- Changing a uniform or dress code, like allowing maternity clothes.
- Flexible scheduling for prenatal or postnatal appointments.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will be issuing regulations within a year to further explain the requirements of the PWFA. It is advisable for employers to take appropriate steps to ensure compliance and avoid legal penalties. For further information and guidance on implementing a PWFA policy that works for your business, contact The Human Resource Consulting Group.