Under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), your employer must provide you with “reasonable accommodations” for your known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the accommodations will cause the employer an “undue hardship.” This federal law, which takes effect June 27, 2023, applies to all employers with 15 or more employees.
What is the goal of the PWFA?
Federal and state laws already protect pregnant workers against discrimination, but too many employers ignore the laws or find ways around them. As a result, pregnant workers sometimes lose their jobs due to discrimination or experience unfair penalties because of pregnancy-related absences. Some pregnant workers feel they have no option but to quit their jobs because of a lack of reasonable accommodations. Fear of losing their jobs leads other workers to come to work sick or to perform job functions that put their health or their unborn baby’s health at risk. According to a 2022 study by the Bipartisan Policy Center, nearly 1 in 4 pregnant people (23%) have considered leaving their jobs due to a lack of reasonable accommodations or fear of discrimination during a pregnancy, while 1 in 5 (20%) say they have experienced pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.
The PWFA attempts to protect pregnant workers from having to choose between a healthy pregnancy and earning a living by clarifying that pregnant workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations in a similar way to employees with disabilities.
What constitutes a reasonable accommodation?
What constitutes a reasonable accommodation depends on the specific situation and should be arrived at through an interactive dialogue between you and your employer. You should tell your employer what accommodations you need in order to continue performing your job, and your employer should discuss with you whether or not the company can reasonably make these accommodations. Accommodations may include modifications to your schedule, more breaks to allow for rest and hydration, the provision of appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel, time off to recover from childbirth, or being excused from strenuous activities or activities that expose you to compounds that are unsafe for pregnancy, among others. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations unless doing so would cause them significant difficulty or expense.
What additional protections does the PWFA provide?
Under the new law, your employer cannot deny you a job or other opportunities based on your need for a reasonable accommodation. Your employer also cannot require you to accept an accommodation without having an interactive discussion about the accommodation with you. Further, your employer cannot require you to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided that would allow you to keep working. Your employer is also prohibited from retaliating against you for reporting or opposing unlawful discrimination under the PWFA.
We can help
If you believe you have been unlawfully discriminated against under the PWFA or other workplace laws, speaking to an experienced employment attorney can help you protect yourself and your rights. Contact Katz Melinger PLLC at 212-460-0047 or online.