There’s a new law in town affecting business owners. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which went into effect on June 27th, 2023, requires all employers of at least 15 employees to provide accommodations to workers for issues related to pregnancy and childbirth. According to US Census data, over 70% of women will become pregnant at some point while employed. The PWFA is aimed at protecting pregnant and postpartum workers’ rights, so they can stay in the workforce before and after having a child if they choose.
As your business grows and your employees’ families do too, you’ll need to stay compliant with the PWFA. Read on to learn more about what the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act means for employers.
What is the PWFA?
Under the PWFA, employers must provide reasonable accommodations for workers experiencing physical or mental medical conditions caused by pregnancy or childbirth. The PWFA covers employees through pregnancy and postpartum.
Under the PWFA, employers:
- Must provide accommodations to employees and job applicants who disclose pregnancy-related medical issues, unless the accommodation would create an undue hardship for the business.
- Cannot force an employee or applicant to accept a change to their work or environment.
- Cannot refuse an applicant or employee a job based on pregnancy.
- Cannot force employees to go on leave instead of making an accommodation.
- Cannot retaliate against pregnant workers for requesting an accommodation.
As an employer, you’ll be responsible for speaking with employees to determine what changes are needed. The PWFA calls this conversation an interactive process, where the employer and employee discuss what accommodations are necessary.
Learn more about how you can support new parent employees.
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What is meant by reasonable accommodations?
According to the PWFA, reasonable accommodations are changes to the work environment or duties of the pregnant or postpartum employee that don’t have a severe negative impact on the employer. To be covered by this act, the adjustments made must address issues in the workplace that are pregnancy-related.
Some examples of reasonable accommodations are:
- Time off for appointments and recovery
- Chairs in the work area
- Additional or extended breaks
- Exemption from certain activities
- Lenient food and drink policies
- Flexible hours
To request an accommodation under the PWFA, an employee must:
- Notify the employer or Human Resources.
- Detail the required accommodation with a time frame of how long they will need it.
Employees do not have to mention the PWFA to request time off or accommodations. The organization, Better Balance offers discussion guides for requesting a reasonable accommodation.
What is meant by undue hardship?
An undue hardship is a change to the work environment that would create substantial expenses or changes to the business. The financial stability of the company is taken into consideration when determining if the accommodation puts a strain on the business.
Who is protected by the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?
The PWFA covers all pregnant and postpartum full-time, part-time, temporary, and seasonal employees and applicants, of any gender identity, at businesses with at least 15 employees. The employee or applicant must be able to perform the regular duties of the job outside of the time they are pregnant and/or postpartum.
What if I do not comply?
If you do not meet your employee’s accommodation request, they must give you 10 days’ notice before filing any complaints or charges. After being notified, you have those 10 days to comply. If you reject the employee’s request or do not meet it within 10 days, your employee is free to file a lawsuit against your business. The employee may also file a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Only events that have taken place on or after June 27th, 2023 are considered noncompliant with the PWFA. Employers are notified of all complaints filed against them through the EEOC. It is important to know that employees can’t refuse accommodation offers from employers or conversations around accommodations just to file a complaint.
Are there any exemptions to the PWFA?
Yes. There are a couple of exemptions. The PWFA only applies to businesses with more than 15 employees. And businesses are not required to make an accommodation if they can demonstrate it would cause undue financial hardship on the business. It’s important to remember that the total revenue of your business is taken into account when determining whether or not the adjustment would create a hardship.