What You Should Know About the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

pregnant woman is working on computer laptop - pregnant workers fairness act concept

If you are pregnant or recently gave birth, you may require certain changes to your work environment in order to carry out your job-related tasks. Significantly, your employer may be required to provide you with a “reasonable accommodation” under new federal legislation — the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). This law specifically applies to reasonable accommodations and the communication that must take place between employers and employees. The statute expands the protections provided to pregnant workers under other employment discrimination laws and holds an employer legally accountable for failing to comply.

What is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires that covered employers provide reasonable accommodations to workers for known limitations in connection with pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions, unless doing so would result in an undue hardship for the company. While other federal laws prohibit discrimination against pregnant workers, the Act — which went into effect on June 27, 2023 — extends the protections that were previously in place.

While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations for certain conditions related to pregnancy, it does not qualify pregnancy itself as a disability. For instance, although the ADA considers gestational diabetes to be a disability, many other impairments in connection with pregnancy are not covered. The PWFA enhances the protections of the ADA by requiring that employers not only make reasonable accommodations for specific pregnancy-related disabilities, but for the “known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions” in general.

The PWFA does not replace any of the laws that are in place. Rather, it seeks to fill the gaps of these statutes. Other federal laws, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, continue to make it illegal to discriminate against a worker or terminate them due to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. In addition, pregnant workers are still able to seek legal recourse under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, depending on the facts of their case.

What is the Interactive Process?

One of the key components of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is that the pregnant worker and the employer are required to identify a reasonable accommodation together through the “interactive process.” This is the same method used under the ADA to facilitate communication between the parties. There are no specific words that must be communicated by the employee to trigger the protections under the Act, as long as their pregnancy-related limitations are made known to the employer.

Importantly, the employer must have a conversation in good faith regarding the employee’s needs — and the reasonable accommodation that can be provided to help ensure they are met. The communication between the employer and employee can occur in person, through email, over the phone, or by other means. For example, the employer might have a meeting with the employee to talk about what work-related duties they are able to perform. The parties may discuss a temporary transfer or other alternatives to allow the employee to continue working.

It’s vital to understand that an employer cannot require an employee to accept an accommodation other than one that is achieved through the interactive process. If there is more than one type of accommodation that would be effective, the employee’s preference should be primary. However, the reasonable accommodation is generally left to the discretion of the employer.

Legal Protections Under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Specifically, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act applies to private employers with at least 15 employees and federal agencies. It protects all workers who have known limitations that are related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related health conditions. Under the Act, a covered employer is prohibited from requiring an employee to take leave if there was a reasonable accommodation that would allow them to continue working. While the PWFA does not specify the reasonable accommodations that must be provided, they can include the following:

  • Light duty or job reassignment
  • Part time work
  • Seating modifications
  • Access to water
  • Scheduling flexibility
  • Closer parking
  • Appropriately sized uniforms
  • Additional break time
  • Leave to recover from childbirth

A pregnant worker may also request to be excused from strenuous activities or those that would involve exposure to chemicals that are not safe during pregnancy. Additionally, an employer may not retaliate against an employee for requesting an accommodation or deny employment to an applicant based on their need for a reasonable accommodation due to pregnancy or childbirth. The PWFA also prohibits intimidation, coercion, threats, and interference with the rights exercised under the statute.

The EEOC started accepting claims brought under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act on June 27, 2023. In order for the Act to apply, the claim must have arisen on or after this date. As with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an employee may bring a lawsuit to recover their monetary damages — but they must first exhaust their administrative remedies by filing a complaint with the EEOC.

Contact an Experienced Ohio Employment Discrimination Attorney

If your employer failed to provide you with reasonable accommodation in connection with your pregnancy, childbirth, or related condition under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, you may be entitled to take legal action. It’s essential to have a knowledgeable employment discrimination attorney by your side who can advise you regarding your rights and pursue legal recourse on your behalf. Located in Westlake and representing clients throughout Ohio, employment law attorney Chris Lalak is committed to protecting the rights of employees and securing the best possible outcome in every case. Contact Lalak LLC today to schedule a free, confidential, no-obligation consultation and learn how we can help.