Today, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act takes effect.
The Act requires private employers with 15 or more employees (and Congress, Federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations) to make reasonable accommodations for workers affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so would impose an undue hardship. It’s an accommodation-only statute — basically, the Americans with Disabilities Act for pregnancy.
This House Committee on Education and Labor Report provides several examples of possible reasonable accommodations such as the ability to sit or drink water, park closer, work flexible hours, receive appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel, have additional break time to use the bathroom, eat, and rest, take leave or time off to recover from childbirth, and be excused from strenuous activities or activities that involve exposure to compounds not safe for pregnancy.
Employers must provide reasonable accommodations unless they would cause an “undue hardship” on the employer’s operations. An “undue hardship” is significant difficulty or expense for the employer.
The bill also bars covered employers from:
- Making an employee accept an accommodation without a discussion about the accommodation between the worker and the employer;
- Denying a job or other employment opportunities to a qualified employee or applicant based on the person’s need for a reasonable accommodation;
- Retaliating against an individual for reporting or opposing unlawful discrimination under the Act or participating in a proceeding (such as an investigation) under the Act; or
- Interfering with any individual’s rights under the Act.
Here’s another no-no. Don’t require an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided to let the employee keep working. Similarly, don’t forbid a pregnant woman from working for the safety of the employee or the unborn child. You’ll find yourself defending a Pregnancy Discrimination Act claim.
Most states and many cities already require reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. Hopefully, you’ve already updated your employee handbook accordingly. If not, now would be a good time to do it.