Effective June 27, 2023, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Failure to comply could result in a legal dispute being filed in Federal court! Here’s what you need to know about the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) to ensure your business is in compliance.
The PWFA requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to a qualified worker (including applicants), with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation will cause the employer undue hardship.
According to the bill, a covered employee applies to private and public sector employers with at least 15 employees, including Congress, federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations.
What is Undue Hardship?
An undue hardship exists if it would it be too costly, too extensive, or too disruptive for the employer. Undue hardship is determined on a case-by-case basis. If the employer making the accommodation is part of a larger entity, the structure and overall resources would be considered. Additionally, the financial and administrative relationship of the employer to the larger organization is part of the consideration.
What are Reasonable Accommodations?
Reasonable accommodations are defined as changes to the work environment, or the way things are usually done at work. They may include (but are not limited to) the ability to sit or drink water, access to closer parking, flexible hours, appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel, additional break time to use the bathroom, eat, and rest, ability to take leave or time off to recover from childbirth, and exemption from strenuous activities and/or activities that involve exposure to compounds not safe for pregnancy.
What Qualifies for Accommodation?
The pregnant employee qualifies for PWFA if “any inability to perform essential functions is for a temporary period; the essential function could be performed in the near future; and the inability to perform the essential function can be reasonably accommodated.” This condition does not need to meet the definition of disability specified in section 3 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (42 U.S.C. 12102).
The act applies to accommodation(s) only. The PWFA does not replace or preempt federal, state, or local laws that provide more protection to workers affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition. Discriminatory laws are covered by existing laws effective in more than 30 states.
An employer may not:
- Require a covered employee to accept accommodation other than any reasonable accommodation arrived at through the interactive process.
- Deny employment opportunities to covered employees based on the need to make reasonable accommodations.
- Require covered employees to take leave, whether paid or unpaid, if another reasonable accommodation can be provided.
- Take adverse action in terms, conditions, or privileges or employment against covered employees for requesting reasonable accommodations.
Will the PWFA Defend the Employer?
The EEOC will start accepting charges June 27, 2023. The PWFA will defend employers who work in good faith with a qualified employee to identify alternative accommodations that are equally effective to the requested accommodation without undue hardship, the PWFA will defend such employers.
What Kind of Relief is Provided Qualified Employees?
The same relief provided under Title VII, including reinstatement, back pay, front pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and the right to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs may be awarded to employees in the event the employer loses a grievance by a private-sector employee.
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