Pregnant workers are protected from certain types of discrimination in the workplace. For example, state and federal laws prohibit employers from firing or refusing to hire workers simply because they are pregnant. A new law that went into effect last summer strengthened these protections by also requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant or lactating employees.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which went into effect June 27, 2023, applies to public and private employers with 15 or more employees. These employers must provide reasonable accommodations so that pregnant employees can continue working or lactating mothers can pump breast milk for their children.
Previously, the employees had the burden of showing that they needed the accommodations. The PWFA takes away that burden from the employees and makes it the employer’s responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations.
Reasonable accommodations under the PWFA
Some examples of a reasonable accommodation under the PWFA might include providing a stool for a worker who normally stands, break times for breast milk pumping or morning sickness, remote work or a temporary transfer to lighter duties.
Note that employers must only offer accommodations that are reasonable. They don’t have to offer an accommodation that would be an undue hardship for the employer.
Undue hardship under the PWFA
Many employer-employee disputes revolve around the question of whether an accommodation is reasonable or an undue hardship on an employer, and the difference between the two can depend on the context.
For instance, in a case involving the Americans With Disabilities Act, an employee might require the installation of a wheelchair ramp. In some cases, this would perfectly reasonable, but in others it would not. For instance, a large corporation may be able to afford a wheelchair ramp at its headquarters, but a small business may not be able to afford it.
However, these questions are somewhat different when the law involved is the PWFA. Pregnancy and lactation are temporary conditions, and so the accommodations typically last no more than a few months. With that in mind, courts may tend to side with the employees when they hear this type of dispute under the PWFA.