The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: A Comprehensive Guide to Navigating New Federal Protections and Accommodations for Pregnant Employees

In late 2022, Congress passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“PWFA”), which aims to expand federal protections for pregnant employees and applicants. The bill was urgently needed as many pregnant employees face discrimination or dismissal from their jobs due to pregnancy, childbirth, or other related medical conditions. This new law will be a game changer not only for pregnant workers but also for employers. Employers need to understand the requirements set forth under the act to ensure they are in compliance with the law.

Background information on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The PWFA expands federal protections for pregnant employees and applicants to reduce the discrimination faced by pregnant individuals in the workplace. This Act imposes employment protections and obligations on employers with respect to pregnant workers. The bill amends the existing Civil Rights Act of 1964 by including pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions in the definition of sex discrimination under the law.

Explanation of the PWFA’s expansion of federal protections for pregnant employees and applicants

The PWFA aims to expand the protection of pregnant workers and applicants whose work is impacted by pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy. The law empowers pregnant workers by enabling them to request workplace accommodations that would allow them to continue working.

Description of the requirement for covered employers to provide “reasonable accommodations”

Covered employers are required to provide “reasonable accommodations” for an employee’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless doing so would impose undue hardship on the employer. Reasonable accommodations are adjustments or changes to the job or work environment that permit a pregnant worker to perform her job. The law considers several factors in determining whether an accommodation is reasonable or an undue hardship.

Comparison of the PWFA to existing protections under the New York State and New York City human rights laws

The PWFA echoes the protections already provided by the New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws. In 2019, both of these laws were amended to extend specific protections to pregnant individuals. These laws include provisions requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for known limitations related to pregnancy or childbirth, including lactation or expressing breast milk.

Analysis of the Impact of the PWFA on Employers in New York

While New York State and City employers are already familiar with the requirements under the State and City Human Rights Laws, the fact that PWFA will now be applicable to a broader set of employers means that many more employers will now have the responsibility to provide accommodations and eliminate discrimination against pregnant workers. Employers that were not previously covered need to take note of these changes and adjust their policies and procedures accordingly.

Explanation of the Employers Covered by the PWFA

The PWFA applies to employers with fifteen or more employees. Employers with fewer than fifteen employees are exempt from complying with the law.

Explanation of the prohibition on discriminatory practices against pregnant employees

The law prohibits discriminatory practices against employees based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. It is illegal for employers to terminate or otherwise retaliate against employees based on their pregnancy status.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act represents a significant shift in the law for employers of all sizes that hire workers in the United States. Without careful updates to policies and procedures, employers may find themselves unexpectedly out of compliance with the new law. Employers should seek legal counsel to ensure they meet the requirements under the PWFA. Notwithstanding the general concerns, this new legislation is a positive step towards equal treatment of pregnant employees and ensuring they can continue in their jobs without fear of negative consequences due to their pregnancy or any related medical condition.

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