For a long time, there was a gray area under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and relevant case law when it came to accommodating pregnancy in the workplace. Under the current laws, discriminating against employees for being pregnant is illegal, but the current law’s protections do not extend far enough. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“PWFA”) bridges this gap and goes into effect on June 27, 2023. Let’s explore the key provisions of this act and its significance in promoting workplace equality and supporting pregnant workers.
The PWFA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. Examples of these accommodations include adjustments to work schedules, access to water and bathroom breaks, modified tasks, assistance with heavy lifting, and temporary transfers to less strenuous positions. The PWFA mirrors the process under the Americans with Disabilities Act for receiving accommodations. In brief, engaging in the interactive process would mean approaching your employer or putting your employer on notice of your pregnancy. Then, engaging in the interactive process by asking for accommodations and working with your employer to find a reasonable accommodation.
The PWFA also mandates that employers provide written notice detailing their protections under the act. This includes information about the right to be free from pregnancy discrimination, the right to reasonable accommodations, and avenues for reporting violations. Additionally, employers are required to maintain records related to reasonable accommodations and make them available for inspection upon request. Both private and public employers are covered as long as an employer has fifteen employees including Congress, Federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations.
The PWFA like the other discrimination laws has robust safeguards against retaliation towards an employee for reporting or opposing unlawful discrimination under the PWFA or participating in a PWFA proceeding (such as an investigation). Employees who exercise their rights under the Act by filing complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or pursuing legal action are likewise protected from adverse actions such as demotion, termination, or harassment. More specific actions that are prohibited are the denial of a job or other employment opportunities to a qualified employee or applicant based on the person’s need for a reasonable accommodation; or require an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided that would let the employee keep working.
Prior to the PWFA being passed, case law from the Supreme Court clarified that employers must treat pregnancy-related limitations in the same manner as other temporary disabilities under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. For example, if an employer allowed a light-duty position for one employee, then a pregnant employee would have to be extended the same consideration. On its face the decision seems to reinforce the policy idea behind the Pregnancy Discrimination Act that prohibits discrimination against an employee because they are pregnant. In practice, it relieved employers from having to extend specific accommodations to pregnant employees outside the confines of the ADA. The policy left several gaps in coverage for pregnancy employees, which is why the PWFA is such a necessary measure.
The new law goes into effect around the end of June, but pregnant employees are still covered under the current discrimination laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Unfortunately, the PWFA is not retroactive, but it does not mean that it is too early to learn about this new addition to pregnant employees’ rights under the law. Thus, employees who believe they have experienced pregnancy discrimination or have been denied reasonable accommodations can speak to a Dallas Employment Lawyer about what actions can be taken before or after the new law has taken effect.