At a Glance:
- The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act gives workers the right to receive reasonable accommodations, like light duty, breaks, or a stool to sit on, for pregnancy, childbirth recovery, and related medical conditions, including lactation, unless it would be an undue hardship on the employer.
- The law went into effect on June 27, 2023.
- Employees are also protected from retaliation under the law.
- Workers interested in learning more about their rights or seeking help can call A Better Balance’s free, confidential legal helpline at 1-833-NEED-ABB (1-833-633-3222) or fill out our online form.
- The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act’s passage is one of the biggest advances in civil rights law in decades.
What is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is a landmark civil rights law that will ensure pregnant and postpartum workers are not forced off the job, and get the accommodations they need, without facing discrimination or retaliation in the workplace.
Specifically, the PWFA guarantees workers the affirmative right to receive reasonable accommodations for known limitations stemming from pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions unless the requested accommodations would pose an “undue hardship” to the employer (similar to the familiar process in place for workers with disabilities). The law ensures that millions of pregnant workers, and those who have recently given birth, can protect their health without risking their paycheck. It is a major milestone for gender, racial, and economic justice across the country.
When does the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act go into effect?
The PWFA goes into effect on June 27, 2023.
What problem did the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act fix?
By guaranteeing a right to reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions, the PWFA closes a gap in federal law that left pregnant and postpartum workers without remedy if they needed accommodations in order to prevent health complications and keep working. Prior to the PWFA, existing law like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act only provided workers the right to receive accommodations if they could identify other similarly-situated people in their workplace who received accommodations — an insurmountable hurdle for most workers. Likewise, the Americans with Disabilities Act only provided the right to reasonable accommodations if the worker had a pregnancy-related disability. Before the PWFA’s passage, then, many workers who had a medical need for accommodations related to pregnancy had no legal protections and were often forced off the job and into financial precarity.
What rights do workers have under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?
Workers will now have a right to reasonable accommodation for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions, unless the accommodation would be really difficult or expensive (an “undue hardship”) for the employer to provide.
Some examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- Light duty, or help with manual labor and lifting
- Temporary transfer to a less physically demanding or safer position
- Additional, longer, or more flexible breaks to drink water, eat, rest, or use the bathroom
- Changing food or drink policies to allow a worker to have a water bottle or food
- Changing equipment, devices, or work station, such as providing a stool to sit on or adding a lock to a clean meeting room to turn it into a temporary lactation space
- Making existing facilities easier to use, such as relocating a workstation closer to the restroom
- Changing a uniform or dress code, like allowing wearing maternity pants
- Changing a work schedule, like having shorter work hours or a later start time to accommodate morning sickness
- Breaks, private space (not in a bathroom), and other accommodations for lactation needs
- Flexible scheduling for prenatal or postnatal appointments
- Remote work or telework
- Time off for bedrest, recovery from childbirth, postpartum depression, mastitis, and more
Workers have a right to reasonable accommodations as long as it would not be significantly difficult or expensive — an “undue hardship” — for their employers to provide.
Undue hardship is based on factors like the cost of an accommodation and the employer’s financial resources.
- For example, it would likely not be an undue hardship for a multimillion-dollar corporation with thousands of employees to temporarily transfer a warehouse worker to a light duty position.
- Likewise, it would probably not be an undue hardship for an accounting firm to provide a clerk with extra breaks to use the restroom and drink water.
Workers will now have a right to accommodations for a wide range of needs “related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”
- That includes common needs related to pregnancy and recovery from childbirth.
- Related medical condition includes lactation, mastitis, and more.
- A pregnant or postpartum worker does not need to have a pregnancy-related disability in order to receive an accommodation. This is a very important change to existing federal law.
Under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, an employer must have a good-faith conversation with a worker seeking reasonable accommodations about the worker’s needs and reasonable accommodations that could meet those needs.
- The interactive process can occur in person, by phone, over email, or in other ways. For example, Human Resources might have a meeting with a pregnant worker requesting accommodations to discuss what job duties the employee can safely do, or talk about available positions that the employee could temporarily transfer to.
- A worker does not need to use any “magic words,” or mention the “Pregnant Workers Fairness Act” or the phrase “reasonable accommodation,” in order to start this process.
- The employer must respond to the request and engage in the interactive process promptly. Your employer doesn’t necessarily have to provide the exact accommodation you request if another accommodation would meet your needs.
- Even if you’re not able to perform some of your main job duties, sometimes referred to as “essential functions,” it may still be possible to receive accommodations so long as you’re able to perform those duties in the near future and you only need the accommodation for a temporary amount of time.
Retaliating against a worker for needing, requesting, or using a reasonable accommodation is unlawful.
Who does the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act protect?
The law protects people who work for the government, and for private employers with at least 15 employees. In addition to full-time workers, the law also protects part-time, temporary, and seasonal workers as well as people applying for jobs.
What other laws protect pregnant and postpartum workers?
Other federal laws, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), provide additional protections, such as the right to be free from pregnancy and disability discrimination, the right to accommodations for disabilities, the right to unpaid, job-protected time off, and the right to break time and space to express milk at work. State and local pregnant workers fairness acts, paid family and medical leave laws, paid sick time statutes, and anti-discrimination laws provide further protections.
Where can I get help and learn more?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the nationwide government agency that enforces the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. If you wish to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC alleging your employer violated the law, you must do so within 180 days of the violation occurring. In some states, you may have longer to file a charge with the EEOC. Please call ABB’s helpline if you have questions.
To learn more about the history of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and other laws that might protect you, visit:
- A Better Balance’s “Know Your Workplace Rights” Hub
- A Better Balance’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Resources Webpage
- A Better Balance’s Congressional Testimony from the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Hearing
- A Better Balance’s Report Long Overdue: It Is Time for the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
- A Better Balance’s Legal Backgrounder on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act