As the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) took effect today, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) began accepting charges under the law and issued guidance on pregnancy accommodations in the workplace. In brief, the PWFA requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee or applicant based on their pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition. Exceptions to the law apply if the pregnancy accommodation would cause an undue hardship to the business. Notably, however, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) recently shared a report by the Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which found that nearly half of all accommodations can be implemented at no cost to employers.
Requirements Under the PWFA
The PWFA mirrors the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and extends the same protections to pregnant workers. Like the ADA, the PWFA applies to employers with 15 or more employees on payroll. While the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, already included protections against pregnancy discrimination, the PWFA removes a previous requirement that pregnant workers seeking reasonable accommodations must identify similar accommodations granted to similarly-situated employees. Additionally, covered employers may not:
- require an eligible employee to take paid or unpaid leave if there is another reasonable pregnancy accommodation available;
- retaliate, coerce, intimidate, or take any adverse employment action against an eligible employee who requests a pregnancy accommodation; or
- deny any employment opportunities to an eligible employee based on their need for pregnancy-related reasonable accommodations.
EEOC Guidance on Pregnancy Accommodations
As the PWFA takes effect, the EEOC issued timely guidance on pregnancy accommodations to assist employers in complying with the PWFA. Recognizing a request for reasonable accommodations is the first step in the informal, interactive process of determining a suitable accommodation. The employee or applicant doesn’t have to specifically use the phrase “reasonable accommodation” when making a request.
As a part of its guidance on pregnancy accommodations, the EEOC shows how an employee may initiate an accommodation request. Employees and applicants may come directly to a manager or human resources representative with an explanation of their need for a work change because of a pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition. They would then explain their work barriers and work with the employer or representative towards a suitable accommodation.
Examples of Pregnancy Accommodations
Also included in the EEOC’s guidance on pregnancy accommodations, the agency provided several relevant examples. Reasonable accommodations that employers could provide include:
- offering additional, longer, or flexible breaks to eat, drink, rest, or use the restroom;
- changing a work schedule or rearranging work tasks;
- changing food or drink policies to allow a pregnant worker to have water or food at their workstation; and
- providing leave for medical appointments or recovery after childbirth.
The EEOC is now accepting discrimination charges under the PWFA for incidents occurring on or after June 27th, 2023. As one of seven protected classes most likely to file a discrimination lawsuit, individuals who are pregnant or have a pregnancy-related condition may file a charge with the EEOC if they have been denied pregnancy accommodations or are otherwise discriminated against. Employers must also now post the updated “Know Your Rights: Workplace Discrimination is Illegal” poster, which includes a section reflecting protections for pregnant workers under the PWFA.
Reasonable Accommodations E-Learning Program for Employers and Managers
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 72% of working women become pregnant while employed at some time in their lives. Meanwhile, 80% of first-time pregnant women continue to work until their final month of pregnancy. In its guidance on pregnancy accommodations, the EEOC strongly urges employers to train supervisors on the PWFA and how to provide reasonable accommodations. To help business owners and their managers comply with state and federal reasonable accommodation laws, Personnel Concepts created the Reasonable Accommodations E-Learning Program for Employers and Managers. This online eLearning module includes self-guided training on correctly handling disability accommodation requests, links to digital resources, and a standalone interactive assessment tool that employers can use whenever they receive a qualifying request.