The federal government continues to expand employee protections for pregnant and postpartum employees. We recently talked about the federal PUMP Act. Now, employers will want to brush up on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which becomes effective today.
Under federal law, pregnant employees have long had some protection against discrimination under both Title VII – which prohibits workplace discrimination – and the Americans with Disabilities Act – which requires accommodations for disabled employees. Both of these provisions, however, have been limited in scope. Title VII, for example, only requires that employers not discriminate against pregnant employees, and demands that pregnant employees receive treatment comparable to that of people with medical conditions that similarly limit their ability to work. The ADA requires accommodations, but only to meet the needs of certain pregnancy-related conditions that qualify under the ADA, as pregnancy itself is not considered a disability.
Thus, the PWFA ensures something that has gone untouched by federal law until this point: that pregnant employees receive reasonable accommodations in their workplace.
The PWFA explicitly prohibits the following:
- Not making reasonable accommodations to known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, unless it would cause undue hardship;
- Requiring covered employees to accept an accommodation that was not arrived at through an interactive process;
- Denying an employment opportunity to a qualified employee based on the company’s need to make an accommodation for the employee;
- Requiring an employee to take paid or unpaid leave, if another reasonable accommodation could be provided;
- Any adverse action relating to the terms, conditions and privileges of employment based on an employee’s requesting accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions.
The PWFA applies to all employers, both public and private, with 15 or more employees. As with many accommodations-related statutes, there remain exemptions for any employer that can demonstrate that a particular accommodation would cause an undue hardship.
But does this expand your obligations? If you’re a New York State employer, it may not change much.
Under the New York Human Rights Law, any employers with four or more employees are required to make reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions. While New York courts have required that the same accommodations afforded to other employees with temporary disabilities also be given to pregnant employees, it was guidance by the New York State Division of Human Rights that construed the phrase “pregnancy-related conditions” to broadly include “all needs and restrictions related to an employee’s pregnancy.”
The benefit is that, combined with upcoming EEOC guidelines on the implementation of PWFA, employers will get more tools and guidance on how best to accommodate pregnant employees. The EEOC suggests in an infographic that accommodations can be as simple as allowing pregnant employees to have food and water while working or giving them longer or more flexible breaks. The EEOC also reminds employers that they’ve got an obligation to train their frontline managers, so everyone’s aware of the law.
If you have any questions about federal or State guidance, we can help. Reach out to The Coppola Firm by email (email@example.com), phone (716.839.9700), or stop by our conveniently-located office on Maple Road in Buffalo.