The Impact of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

by Tessa Steffens

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) was signed into law at the end of 2022 and will become effective this summer, on June 27, 2023. The PWFA will require employers who employ 15 or more employees during 20 or more work weeks to provide a reasonable accommodation to workers for known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

Employers are already required to comply with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibit pregnancy discrimination and require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with certain conditions related to pregnancy that qualify as a disability. Thus, some employers may think that they will be fully compliant as long as they continue to follow those laws, but that is not the case.

The PWFA is broader than the ADA, requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to a worker's known limitations related to pregnancy, unless the accommodation will cause the employer an undue hardship. Thus, the PWFA fills in the gap between Title VII and the ADA to allow pregnant workers to continue working with reasonable accommodations for conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth.

There are a few key points of the PWFA that employers should be ready for come June. First, employers must engage in the interactive process with a pregnant worker to agree to a reasonable accommodation. This means employers cannot require a pregnant employee to accept an accommodation without a discussion about the accommodation. Second, employers cannot require workers to take leave from work for reasons related to their pregnancy if another reasonable accommodation would allow the employee to continue working. Finally, if employes violate the PWFA, employees will be able to file EEOC charges based on the failure to accommodate after June 27, 2023.

Covered employers should understand that they will be required to change the way things are usually done at work to reasonably accommodate a worker's limitations related to pregnancy. In the same way as the ADA, the PWFA defines a "reasonable accommodation" as a modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that enables an employee with a disability an equal opportunity to successfully perform a job.

Types of reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers can include the ability to sit or drink water; receive closer parking; have flexible hours; receive appropriately sizes uniforms and safety apparel; receive additional break and rest time; take leave or time off to recover from childbirth; and be excused from strenuous activities.

Employers should begin preparing now for when the PWFA becomes effective by notifying and training managers of the change in law and how to handle requests for pregnancy accommodations. Employers should also review their accommodation forms and employee handbooks to make necessary updates to include information regarding pregnancy accommodations.