LEGAL UPDATE: Reasonable Accommodations under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

LEGAL UPDATE: Reasonable Accommodations under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

by | July 24, 2023

Signed into law by President Biden, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is a new federal law that took effect on June 27, 2023, and provides expanded protections for pregnant workers to seek reasonable accommodations through their employer.

What problem did the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act fix?

Previously, employers were only required to provide accommodations to pregnant workers where an employee’s pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition rose to the level of a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or when accommodations were made for other similarly situated, but nonpregnant workers. Now, the PWFA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for the known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions of a qualifying employee. 

What does the PWFA require employers to do?

Employers with at least 15 employees are to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees and job applicants with temporary physical or mental limitations due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions (including common needs related to pregnancy and recovery from childbirth) unless these accommodations would provide an undue hardship to employers.

What Qualifies as a “Reasonable Accommodation”?

The law’s definition of reasonable accommodation is the same as the definition in the ADA, which defines it as a “modification or adjustment to a job or the work environment that enables an employee with a disability an equal opportunity to successfully perform a job. Some examples of “reasonable accommodations” described in the House Committee on Education and Labor’s Report on the PWFA include:

  • Receiving closer parking
  • Additional break time for restroom breaks and time for eating and resting
  • The ability to sit and drink water
  • The right to be excused from participating in strenuous tasks or activities (including activities that involve exposure to compounds not safe for pregnancy)
  • Receiving appropriately-sized uniforms and safety apparel
  • Having flexible hours and the ability to take leave or time off to recover from childbirth

Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations unless doing so would cause an “undue hardship” on the side of the employer. To determine whether an action would cause an undue hardship, an employer may consider the size, financial resources, and structure of its business. 

Practice Tip: Guidance for Employers

The Equal Employment Opportunity Committee (EEOC) is charged with issuing regulations for the implementation of the PWFA, which are to be issued within one year of the new law becoming effective. In the meantime, employers should review and update internal policies to ensure compliance with the new accommodation law; provide training to supervisors on potential reasonable accommodations; and be on the lookout for the proposed regulations by the EEOC.

Additional Resources

Are you ready? Contact us to review the implications for your business and make a plan.