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  • Lisa McKellar Poursine

Unpacking the Pregnancy Worker's Fairness Act: What Employers Need to Know

As a management defense-side employment law firm, we constantly stay abreast of all new legislations and amendments to ensure that our clients remain fully compliant with the law. One such recent piece of legislation is the Pregnancy Worker's Fairness Act (PWFA), a significant piece of federal legislation that aims to provide enhanced protection to pregnant employees.

The PWFA builds upon previous laws such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While there is some overlap, the PWFA was designed to provide significantly more protection than its predecessors, requiring a covered entity to provide a reasonable accommodation to a qualified employee or applicant with a known limitation related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition, unless it causes undue hardship to the employer.

Practically speaking, the PWFA introduces several new rights and protections for pregnant workers:

  1. Future Ability to Perform Essential Job Functions: If a pregnant employee is temporarily unable to perform an essential function of her job due to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition, she will still be considered 'qualified' under the PWFA if she will be able to perform that function in the near future. This closes a significant gap in prior legislation that failed to provide for future qualifications.

  2. Reasonable Accommodation Over Mandatory Leave: The PWFA mandates that if a reasonable accommodation other than leave can be provided to a qualified pregnant worker, the employer cannot force her to take leave. This represents a significant shift from previous laws and sets a new standard for employers to follow.

  3. Interactive Process in Accommodation Selection: In a noteworthy departure from previous norms, the PWFA prohibits an employer from forcing a particular reasonable accommodation upon a qualified pregnant employee. Instead, the employer must engage in an "interactive process" with the employee to determine an appropriate accommodation that would suit both parties.

These enhanced protections represent a meaningful shift in employment law that employers need to be aware of. The onus is now on employers to facilitate the continued employment of pregnant workers and to take an active role in finding mutually agreeable accommodations.

While the PWFA builds upon existing legislation like the PDA, ADA, FMLA, and Title VII, it goes further by providing these additional protections. It's clear that Congress's intent with the PWFA was to bridge the gaps in the previous laws and establish a more comprehensive legal framework to protect pregnant workers.

Employers need to update their policies and procedures accordingly to ensure compliance with this new law. Our firm is here to provide the guidance and support that employers need in navigating this significant legislative change.

As always, understanding and implementing new laws can be complex. We highly recommend engaging in proactive compliance audits and regular legal consultation to minimize risk and maintain a compliant and inclusive workplace environment.

The PWFA heralds a new era of employee rights, and employers who proactively adapt to this change will not only reduce their legal risks but also foster a more inclusive and equitable work environment.

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