The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is a new federal law set to take effect in the United States on June 27, 2023. After this date, victims of workplace pregnancy discrimination that represents a violation of the PWFA may pursue justice through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The PWFA does not eliminate or override other federal and state laws addressing pregnancy discrimination. Instead, it adds to them by clarifying the degree to which employers must provide reasonable accommodations to certain employees.
Overview of the PWFA
The purpose of the PWFA is to guard against workplace pregnancy discrimination. Employers who must abide by the PWFA include:
- Private and public sector employers with at least 15 employees
- Federal agencies
- Employment agencies
- Labor organizations
Key provisions of the PWFA include the following:
- Employers must make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers and workers who are nursing.
- An employer cannot force an employee to accept an accommodation without first discussing it with the worker.
- An employer cannot decide not to hire an applicant or promote an employee because, due to being pregnant or nursing, they would require an accommodation.
- Employers cannot require pregnant or nursing employees to leave their positions if they would be able to remain in their positions with the help of reasonable accommodations.
- If an employee reports a PWFA violation or participates in an investigation into a PWFA violation, an employer cannot retaliate against them for doing so.
- Employers generally cannot interfere with the rights of employees the PWFA establishes.
The PWFA isn’t the only federal law applying to pregnant employees. Others include:
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964
- The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
- The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA)
- The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act)
The PWFA offers more extensive protections for pregnant and nursing employees. The manner in which it will impact both employees and employers remains to be seen. Generally, though, cases that might have previously qualified as Title VII or ADA cases may become PWFA cases going forward, depending on their specific nature.
Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers
Understanding what does and what does not qualify as a reasonable accommodation under the PWFA is essential for both workers and employers. This can be a complex topic, as an accommodation that might qualify as “reasonable” in one workplace might not qualify as such in another.
The purpose of an accommodation is to provide a worker with a necessary adjustment(s) that allows them to continue doing their job. General examples of accommodations may include:
- Allowing an employee to work remotely
- Modifying an employee’s hours
- Providing an employee with equipment that can facilitate certain work tasks
- Allowing an employee to take more breaks than they typically might take
Whether an accommodation is reasonable depends on whether it places an “undue hardship” on an employer. For instance, perhaps an employee requests an accommodation that involves purchasing multiple pieces of expensive equipment for their workstation. If their employer is a small business that can’t afford such purchases, the employer may not need to offer this accommodation.
Such examples highlight the legal difficulties employees might encounter when they believe their employers are violating the PWFA. Because there is no universal rule for what constitutes an undue hardship, workers and employers may not always agree on this matter.
Protections for Nursing Workers
It is important to note that the PWFA doesn’t merely offer protections for pregnant employees. It also extends protections to those who are nursing.
Specifically, an employee who is nursing may need to take breaks throughout the day to pump breast milk. Under the PWFA, to a reasonable degree, an employer must allow an employee to take these breaks. They may also need to strive to provide employees with access to private spaces where they can complete this task.
Again, however, legal challenges and complications can arise when there is disagreement between employees and employers regarding what qualifies as reasonable. For instance, an employer might feel a nursing employee is requesting more breaks than they genuinely need. Or, an employer might argue that, aside from a bathroom, they can’t offer an employee a private space to pump breast milk, and modifying the work environment to offer such a space would place an undue hardship on the employer.
Enforcement and Compliance
The EEOC is primarily responsible for enforcing the PWFA and handling cases of PWFA non-compliance. Within the workspace itself, managers can also enforce compliance to guard against their companies being the targets of PWFA non-compliance claims in the first place.
The specific consequences an employer may face if they fail to comply with the terms of the PWFA can vary depending on several different factors. For example, perhaps an employer doesn’t offer a reasonable accommodation to a pregnant worker. If said worker files a claim against their employer, the law may require the employer to offer the accommodation. Depending on the circumstances, the employee may also be able to receive financial compensation.
It can be challenging for an employee to understand what type of outcome they may seek when an employer has violated the PWFA. Thus, an employee considering filing a claim may benefit from consulting with an attorney who can help them better understand their potential legal options.
The PWFA Will Add to Current Protections
Once more, because the PWFA is a new law that, as of this writing, hasn’t even officially taken effect yet, it may not be immediately clear how it will affect the rights of pregnant and nursing employees.
That said, its provisions are important given the fact that it is filling in gaps that previous state and federal laws have not properly addressed yet. Both employers and employees should support the law and proactively strive to abide by it in the workplace.
Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that all employers will obey the law. If you believe your employer has violated the PWFA, or any other relevant federal or state law protecting employees during pregnancy or nursing, you may have grounds to file a claim or lawsuit.
Learn more by taking the Free Case Evaluation on this page today to get connected and speak with an attorney accepting cases in your area.