Need to Know: The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Published by Josie Patterson on

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which requires employers to provide pregnant and postpartum employees with “reasonable accommodations,” goes into effect on June 27. But what does this mean exactly?

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), companies with more than 15 employees are required to provide reasonable accommodations, such as limits on heavy lifting and more bathroom breaks, as long as doing so would not impose an “undue hardship” for the employer. This closes a loophole in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) that required a pregnant employee to be “disabled” to receive accommodations.

“While employers routinely offered ‘light duty’ to workers recovering from on-the-job injuries, and – as of 1990, when the [Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)] became law – altered job duties to meet the needs of workers with disabilities, they routinely denied such accommodations to pregnant people,” explained Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney, ACLU Women’s Rights Project.

“And courts routinely approved such actions under the PDA, concluding that pregnant employees were not ‘similar’ to those favored groups in their ‘ability or inability to work,’ and therefore, not entitled to the same accommodations,” Thomas continued. “Once again, the law treated pregnant workers as the exception, unsuited to the demands of the workplace.”

The PWFA eliminates the confusion about which workers are sufficiently “similar” to trigger the PDA’s protections by guaranteeing accommodations for all individuals with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions – mirroring the protections for disabled workers under the ADA. It also prohibits employers from forcing employees to accept a reasonable accommodation not arrived through an interactive process or to take leave, paid or unpaid, if another reasonable accommodation is available.

The new law enables pregnant and postpartum employees to prioritize their health without the fear of losing their income – a significant achievement in civil rights!