The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has finalized regulations to enforce the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), effective June 18, 2024. This new regulation aims to support pregnant employees by ensuring they can continue working comfortably and safely. It is also enforced like other federal employment discrimination laws.

Who Does the PWFA Apply To?

The PWFA applies to “covered employers”, which are employers in the public and private sectors with 15 employees and above, Congress, Federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations.

The PWFA considers someone a “qualified employee” even if they are temporarily unable to perform essential functions, if the essential functions can be performed in the near future and with accommodation.  This new regulation applies only to accommodations.

PWFA Requirements

According to Holland & Hart LLP, this new regulation requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations to the known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions of a qualified employee” unless the accommodation would impose an undue hardship.

Employers are specifically prohibited from:

  • Requiring accepting accommodations without a mutual discussion between the employee and employer.
  • Denying employment opportunities based on an employee or applicant’s need for accommodation.
  • Mandating that an employee takes paid or unpaid leave if accommodation can be provided.
  • Taking adverse actions against employees who request or use reasonable accommodations.
  • Retaliating against those opposing unlawful practices under the PWFA or those who make a charge, testify, assist, or participate in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under the PWFA.
  • Intimidating, interfering, coercing, or threatening a person’s rights under the PWFA.

Determining Suitable Accommodations

To comply, employers must engage in an interactive process with qualified employees to determine suitable accommodations. This involves a collaborative discussion where both parties consider different solutions. Not engaging in this interactive process or not providing reasonable accommodations in a reasonable amount of time may expose employers to claims.

While employers are not obligated to provide the exact accommodation requested, they must offer alternatives that meet the employee’s needs without causing undue hardship.

Examples of Reasonable Accommodations

Reasonable accommodations will depend on the job requirements and the specific needs of each employee. Here are a few examples of ways in which employers may provide reasonable accommodations:

  • Adjusting break schedules.
  • Offering flexible hours for medical appointments.
  • Providing ergonomic seating or modifying equipment.
  • Designating spaces for expressing breast milk.
  • Implementing light-duty roles or temporary transfers to less hazardous positions.
  • Restructuring job responsibilities or modifying work schedules.
  • Assisting with heavy lifting or allowing water at workstations.

Legal Framework and Compliance Around Pregnancy Discrimination

The PWFA complements existing federal laws that apply to employees or applicants affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related physical and/or mental medical conditions. Some of them are:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1964 (PDA), enforced by the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC):
    • Protects employees from discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
    • Covered employers must provide equal treatment to workers affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, comparable to employees with similar work abilities.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enforced by the EEOC:
    • Protects workers from discrimination based on disability.
    • Employers must offer reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities if such accommodations do not impose an undue hardship on the employer.
    • Some conditions related to pregnancy may be disabilities, but pregnancy itself is not a disability under the ADA.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), enforced by the U. S. Department of Labor (DOL):
    • Provides covered employees with unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons.
  • The P. U. M. P. Act (Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act), enforced by the DOL:
    • Broadens workplace protections for employees to express breast milk at work.

Aside from federal law, more than 30 states and local laws impose additional requirements where employers who fail to comply may be subject to legal action.

Becoming Compliant As An Employer

To ensure adherence, employers must proactively review and revise their policies to align with the PWFA and local regulations concerning accommodations for pregnant workers. Last year, there was a new labor law poster released by the EEOC with a revision date of 6/27/2023 that included information about the PWFA. We sent out new posters to all clients.

Staying up to date with ever-changing regulations can be overwhelming and time consuming. UniqueHR is here to help businesses remain compliant. Since 1994, UniqueHR has partnered with businesses in most industries as an outsourced HR department, taking care of everything from payroll, retirement management, health benefits, and risk management. Contact us now to see how we can help.