One study found that an estimated 80% of women in the workforce will become pregnant while still employed. The Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act was designed to address historic discrimination against pregnant workers.
The Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act went into effect on June 27, 2023. As a newer piece of legislation, not all workers or their employers are aware of what employee rights pregnant workers now have.
Today, we’re here to shed light on the legal rights of employees who are impacted by pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions. If you feel that your rights were violated due to your pregnancy, we’re here to help.
Read on for five things workers and employers should know about the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act.
1. What Businesses Must Uphold the PWFA?
When you look at the language of the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act, you’ll see the term “covered employers.” A covered employer is, simply, an employer that is required to meet the new anti-discrimination laws codified by the PWFA.
How do you know if your employer is a covered employer? This is a broad category that includes:
- Any employer in the private or public sector with 15 or more employees
- Federal agencies
- Labor organizations
Unfortunately, employees that work for businesses with under 15 employees cannot cite PFWA violations if they believe they have faced discrimination related to their pregnancy. However, that doesn’t mean that small business employees shouldn’t consult a lawyer about potential workplace discrimination to determine whether they have a case because you may have rights under a different law.
2. Who Is Protected by the PWFA?
If your employer is a covered employer, it’s possible that the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act can protect you. However, it’s worth noting that there is a distinction between the PWFA and Title VII, which also provides protections against pregnancy-related discrimination.
Title VII prohibits discrimination against all pregnant employees with covered employers. For example, if you believe that you were fired or demoted due to your pregnancy, you could file a lawsuit under Title VII.
The PWFA is more specific in its reach and intention. The PFWA protects employers and applicants with known limitations related to:
- Related health conditions
Covered employers must grant reasonable accommodations to make the application process or daily tasks accessible for protected applicants and employees.
3. What are “Reasonable Accommodations?”
A reasonable accommodation is a change to the workplace or to daily procedures. An accommodation is considered reasonable if it will clearly alleviate a hardship on the protected applicant or employee without creating an undue burden for the employer.
A non-exhaustive list of examples of reasonable accommodations under the PWFA include:
- Parking access close to the building.
- The ability to sit as needed.
- Work attire that fits appropriately.
- Additional break times to eat, rest, and use the bathroom.
- Time off granted for pregnancy-related doctor’s appointments.
- Being excused from labor that is physically strenuous.
- Being excused from labor that includes potential contact with harmful compounds.
- Safe, private space for breast milk expression.
Some pregnant employees may require more (or more specific) accommodations than others. For example, if your pregnancy has created additional health conditions that create difficulties at work, you may need additional accommodations beyond what we’ve listed here.
4. How Can You Ask for Accommodations?
To receive accommodations under the PWFA, the affected employee will typically need to start a conversation with a superior or HR representative. You should always put your request in writing, clearly stating that you are making a request for accommodations under the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act. State both the accommodation you are requesting and how it would allow you to perform your job to the best of your abilities.
Your employer is required to have a conversation with you about your request. They are not allowed to require you to accept another request without your agreement. However, if your request does create an undue burden (i.e., significant financial strain), your employer is allowed to suggest an alternative that could address the same limitation.
If your employer refuses to acknowledge your request, tries to intimidate you into dropping your request, or otherwise retaliates, they may have violated the PWFA. You should always consult an attorney if you believe your employer is infringing upon the legal rights of employees.
5. What Else Does the PWFA Require?
To reiterate, the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act requires covered employers to grant reasonable accommodations. Additionally, under the PFWA, employers:
- Can’t require a protected employee to accept an accommodation without a conversation about it.
- Can’t bar a qualified applicant or employee based on their pregnancy-related limitations.
- Can’t require employees to take leave in lieu of accommodations.
- Can’t discriminate against employers for reporting or reacting to discrimination under the PWFA.
- Can’t interfere with an employee’s rights under the PWFA.
Pregnant employees may also have additional protections under Title VII, the ADA, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the PUMP Act, or State law. If you believe you’ve faced discrimination due to your pregnancy or recent childbirth, talk to a lawyer.
Know Your Rights Under the Pregnancy Fairness Workers Act
The Pregnancy Fairness Workers Act went into effect earlier this year. Because it’s so new, many impacted employers and employees are unfamiliar with the protection it grants. We hope that this guide has shed light on these newly codified employee rights.