On April 15th, 2024, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a final rule to implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). Overall, the final rule is guidance from the federal agency regarding how they will interpret the PWFA. Markedly, the final rule was published in the Federal Register on April 19. It becomes effective June 18th, 2024. It is important to realize that the PWFA as a law took effect in June 2023. As a result, the EEOC began enforcing the law at that time and issued guidance on pregnancy accommodations.

Overview of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Effective June 27th, 2023, the PWFA extended the same protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to pregnant workers. These include the requirement of covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualifying pregnant individuals or those with pregnancy-related conditions upon request. Like the ADA, the PWFA applies to employers with 15 or more employees on payroll. Under the PWFA, covered employers may not:

  • require pregnant workers to identify similar accommodations granted to similarly situated employees as a part of their request;
  • force an eligible employee to take paid or unpaid leave in place of an accommodation;
  • take any adverse action against an employee who exercises the law; or
  • deny employees employment opportunities, promotions, or other benefits based on their need for pregnancy accommodations.

The EEOC’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Interpretation Final Rule

Generally, the final rule and accompanying interpretative guidance reflect the agency’s response to approximately 100,000 public comments. The EEOC received the public comments from a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking issued in August 2023. Accordingly, the guidance provides clarity to employers and workers on pregnancy-associated topics. Specifically, highlights from the final regulation include:

  • Numerous examples of reasonable accommodations, such as:
    • additional breaks to drink water, eat, or use the restroom;
    • a stool to sit on while working; time off for health care appointments;
    • temporary reassignment;
    • temporary suspension of certain job duties;
    • telework; or
    • time off to recover from childbirth or a miscarriage.
  • Guidance regarding limitations and medical conditions for which employees or applicants may seek reasonable accommodation, including:
    • miscarriage or stillbirth;
    • migraines;
    • lactation; and
    • pregnancy-related conditions that are episodic, such as morning sickness.
  • Clarification that an employer is not required to seek supporting documentation when an employee asks for a reasonable accommodation. Particularly, an employer should only do so when it is reasonable under the circumstances.
  • Guidance encouraging early and frequent communication between employers and workers. By and large, this helps to promptly raise and resolve requests for reasonable accommodation.
  • An explanation of when an accommodation would impose an undue hardship on an employer and its business.
  • Information on how employers may assert defenses or exemptions as early as possible in charge processing.

Employer Takeaways

In conclusion, although the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act took effect in June 2023, the EEOC’s implementation guidance was released this past week. Given that, employers should become familiar with the final regulations and the EEOC’s examples of reasonable accommodation. In brief, this will help businesses better understand their obligations under the PWFA and how the EEOC will interpret and enforce them in specific cases. Employers also may want to update any pregnancy accommodation policies to ensure that they are in compliance.