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On December 29, 2022, an important milestone was achieved in the protection of workers’ rights in the United States. President Biden signed into law the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), marking a significant step forward in the ongoing effort to ensure fair treatment in the workplace for pregnant employees. This legislation, though new and not yet clarified through court interpretations, mirrors the spirit and language of other established federal laws aimed at safeguarding employee rights.

The Core of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The essence of the PWFA lies in its mandate for “covered employers” to provide “reasonable accommodations” for workers facing limitations due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the business. This requirement came into effect on June 27, 2023, reinforcing employers’ obligations to support their pregnant employees, extending protections even beyond those offered by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) to include pregnancies not classified as disabilities.

Who is a Covered Employer?

A “covered employer” under the PWFA includes both public and private sector employers with 15 or more employees, aligning with the criteria set by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Defining Reasonable Accommodation

“Reasonable accommodation” under the PWFA is interpreted similarly to its definition in the ADA. It involves an “interactive process” between employer and employee to identify and implement an effective accommodation. Examples might include:

  • Allowing more frequent breaks or the opportunity to sit or drink water as needed.
  • Providing closer parking spots or flexible working hours.
  • Supplying properly fitting uniforms and safety gear.
  • Offering additional rest periods or time off for recovery post-childbirth.
  • Adjusting job duties to avoid heavy lifting or exposure to potentially harmful substances.

Understanding Undue Hardship

The concept of “undue hardship” in the PWFA echoes that of the ADA, referring to accommodations that would result in significant difficulty or expense for the employer, taking into account factors like the business’s size, financial resources, and operational needs.

Additional Protections Under the PWFA

Beyond accommodation requirements, the PWFA also safeguards workers from:

  • Being forced into accepting accommodations without a chance to discuss options.
  • Discrimination in hiring or job opportunities due to the need for accommodations.
  • Being unnecessarily pushed into taking leave if a reasonable accommodation would suffice.
  • Retaliation for reporting discrimination or participating in investigations/legal proceedings related to the PWFA.
  • Interference with one’s rights under the PWFA.

Coverage for Pregnancy Loss and Abortion Healthcare

The PWFA’s protections extend to situations involving pregnancy loss, such as miscarriage or stillbirth, and abortion healthcare. This implies federal protection for abortion healthcare access, even in states with restrictive laws, though exceptions may apply to certain employees within religious organizations.

Seeking Legal Assistance

If you face challenges in obtaining reasonable accommodations, experience discrimination, or have concerns about your rights under the PWFA, seeking legal counsel is crucial. Legal experts, like those at Weiler Law PLLC, specialize in navigating the complexities of employment discrimination law. They can offer guidance and represent your interests, ensuring your rights are upheld.

The PWFA, alongside the ADA, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), forms a robust framework supporting pregnant workers. Understanding your rights within this framework is vital, and professional legal assistance can provide the support needed to navigate these protections effectively.

J. Horowitz
J. Horowitz

J. Horowitz leverages over two decades of experience as a seasoned employment law attorney in Arizona to offer insightful freelance writing on the same subject. After a successful career advocating for fairness and justice in the workplace, J. now dedicates his expertise to writing comprehensive articles, blog posts, and thought leadership pieces that illuminate the complexities of employment law.