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April 16, 2024 Employment Law

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Is in Effect. Here’s What You Need to Know.

President Biden signed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act into law in December 2022. Generally, the Act requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to a qualified employee for limitations related to, affected by, or arising out of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. While the Act officially went into effect in June 2023, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) — the agency tasked with investigating potential employment discrimination — has only now issued its final rule implementing the Act, which will go into effect in June 2024. Our Richmond employment lawyers can guide both employers and employees through what the new regulations mean for them. 

Employers Subject to the Act 

The Act is extraordinarily broad. It applies to all private sector and public sector employers that have more than 15 employees, including Congress and federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations.  

Pregnancy-Related Limitations 

A “known limitation” under the Act is a physical or mental condition related to, affected by, or arising out of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions that the employee (or the employee’s representative” has communicated to the employer. A known limitation does not have to meet the definition of “disability” under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Known limitations cover a broad range of impediments, including migraines, morning sickness, sensitivity to heat or certain chemicals, and difficulty with physical tasks. It can also include attending medical appointments related to the pregnancy. 

Prohibited Practices Under the Act 

The Act aims to combat pregnancy discrimination by making it unlawful to: 

  • Fail to make reasonable accommodations for known limitations related to pregnancy unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business 
  • Require a pregnant employee to accept an accommodation other than a reasonable accommodation
  • Deny employment opportunities to pregnant employees if the denial is based on the need of the employer to make reasonable accommodations for the employee’s pregnancy-related limitations 
  • Require pregnant employees to take leave (either paid or unpaid) if another reasonable accommodation can be provided 
  • Take adverse employment actions in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment against a pregnant employee due to the employee’s request or use of a reasonable accommodation 

Essentially, the Act nudges employers toward adopting more pregnancy-friendly workplace practices and procedures. If you’re looking to implement some of these practices and procedures, a Richmond employment lawyer can assist you. 

Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Employees 

The legal imperative for employers to provide reasonable accommodations is a bedrock principle of American anti-discrimination law. A reasonable accommodation is a change or adjustment to a job or work environment that permits an employee with a disability to participate in the job application process, perform the essential functions of a job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment on the same basis as those without a disability. This is quite a broad definition, and the reasonableness of an accommodation will vary from situation to situation. 

The EEOC provides the following examples of accommodations that could be considered reasonable under the Act: 

  • Additional, longer, or more flexible breaks to drink water, eat, rest, or use the bathroom
  • Changing food or drink policies to allow for food or a bottle of water
  • Modifying equipment, devices, or workstations, such as providing a place to sit or devising a way to work while standing
  • Changing a uniform or dress code or providing safety equipment appropriate for pregnancy 
  • Changing work schedules, such as allowing shorter hours, part-time work, or a later starting time
  • Allowing the pregnant employee to telework 
  • Temporary reassignment to other duties
  • Temporary suspension of one or more of the essential functions of a job
  • Leave to attend health care appointments
  • Reassignment to lighter duties or help with lifting or other manual labor
  • Leave to recover from childbirth 

Readers should note that these are merely examples of reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees; a particular pregnant employee may require different accommodations from those provided. To discuss whether a potential accommodation could be considered reasonable in your case, please contact a Richmond employment lawyer

Documentation of Pregnant Employees’ Limitations 

The EEOC contemplates that a simple discussion between employer and employee will be sufficient to establish that the employee is pregnant and has a pregnancy-related limitation and that supporting documentation will be unnecessary. However, the Commission also recognizes that some employers will require that employees provide official medical documentation of their pregnancy and pregnancy-related limitations. Such requests must be reasonable under the circumstances, and the employer is limited to information that: 

  • Confirms the employee’s physical or mental condition via a simple statement of the condition.
  • Confirms that the physical or mental condition is related to, affected by, or arising out of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.  
  • Describes the adjustment or change that the employee needs due to the limitation 

Requests for documentation are not reasonable if: 

  • The limitation and the need for an accommodation are obvious (e.g., the employee is visibly pregnant and requests a larger uniform due to the pregnancy) 
  • The employer already knows about the limitation and the need for the accommodation (e.g., the employer cannot require a doctor’s note every time the pregnant employee needs to come in late due to morning sickness)
  • The employee is currently pregnant and needs breaks to use the bathroom, to eat or drink, or needs to sit if their job requires standing or to stand if their job requires sitting
  • The employee is lactating and needs accommodations to pump at work or nurse during the workday 
  • The employer would not ask an employee for documentation in the specific situation normally (e.g., if the employer’s policy is that employees need a doctor’s note if they are missing three or more days in a row, the employer can’t require a pregnant employee to provide a doctor’s note for missing one day)

Learn More About Your Rights and Responsibilities Under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act From a Richmond Employment Lawyer  

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act introduces a new layer of rights and responsibilities for employees and employers. For more information about how the Act might affect you, please contact a Richmond employment lawyer at Pierce / Jewett by calling 804-502-2320 or using our online contact form.