The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) which goes into effect on June 27, 2023,  requires employers of fifteen or more to provide “reasonable accommodations” to a worker’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation will cause the employer an “undue hardship.” The PWFA supplements a number of existing laws which currently protect pregnant workers. These include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and a myriad of state non-discrimination and leave laws. 

Much like when addressing accommodation requests under the ADA or for religious purposes, employers must engage in an interactive process with the employee when accommodation is requested or appears needed. Employers covered by the law cannot 

  • Require an employee to accept an accommodation without a discussion about the accommodation between the worker and the employer;
  • Deny a job or other employment opportunities to a qualified employee or applicant based on the person’s need for a reasonable accommodation;
  • Require an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided that would let the employee keep working;
  • Retaliate against an individual for reporting or opposing unlawful discrimination under the PWFA or participating in a PWFA proceeding (such as an investigation); or
  • Interfere with any individual’s rights under the PWFA.

Possible accommodations might include a modified work schedule, additional break time to drink, eat, or use the bathroom, allowing an employee to sit while working, limiting exposure to certain chemicals or compounds not safe for pregnant employees, limiting strenuous activities such as lifting or climbing, providing proper fitting uniforms or safety gear, or granting leave to recover from childbirth. 

A requested accommodation might be deemed unreasonable if it creates a significant expense or great difficulty for the employer. In those circumstances, which will likely be dependent on the size and nature of the employer, businesses should work to find an alternative accommodation which will satisfy both the employee and the employer. 

The EEOC will issue proposed regulations under the new law, and employers will have an opportunity to comment on the regulations. In the meantime, however, the agency will begin accepting charges under the PWFA as of its effective date. 

Employers should also be mindful of the PUMP Act (Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act) which broadens previously existing workplace protections for employees to express breast milk at work. The U.S. Department of Labor enforce the PUMP Act.