Pregnant woman working on her computer

New Federal Protections For Pregnant Workers

By Douglas Lipsky

The federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will take effect in June 2023. The new law, included as an amendment to the omnibus spending bill signed late last year, requires employers to grant reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers similar to those required for disabled employees. 

While employers in New York are already required to provide such accommodations, pregnant workers continue to face discrimination. If you believe your employer discriminated against you because of your pregnancy or failed to provide reasonable accommodations, it takes an experienced pregnancy discrimination lawyer to protect your rights.

How Does The PWFA Protect Pregnant Workers?

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits employers from making adverse employment decisions because of pregnancy; however, the PDA does not guarantee accommodations for pregnant workers. The PWFA requires employers with 15 or more workers to grant reasonable and temporary accommodations for pregnant workers, such as light duty or other arrangements. 

The new law also prohibits employers from discriminating against job candidates or employees because of their need for a pregnancy-related accommodation. Reasonable accommodations could include assigning light duty not involving heavy lifting or allowing more frequent bathroom breaks.

 In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, under the PDA, employers making accommodations for other similarly situated workers must also provide comparable accommodations to pregnant workers. But that standard meant pregnant workers were only entitled to accommodations employers grant to workers who are not pregnant but limited in their ability to work due to injury or disability.

In short, the PWFA codifies and broadens protections for pregnancy-related accommodations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will enforce the PWFA and issue guidance in the next two years providing examples of reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. 

Workers In New York Are Entitled to Pregnancy Accommodations

The New York State Human Rights Law requires employers with four or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to women with pregnancy-related conditions. Examples of reasonable accommodations include: 

  • Modifications to how work is performed
  • Reassignment to a more suitable position
  • A flexible work schedule
  • More frequent rest breaks
  • Time off for medical appointments
  • Time off to recover from childbirth

Moreover, pregnant workers in New York City have stronger protections regarding reasonable accommodations. Under the city’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which amended the New York City Human Rights Law, employers must provide employees reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, or pregnancy-related medical conditions, regardless of whether the condition qualifies as a disability. 

The Takeaway

Pregnant workers around the country will soon be entitled to reasonable accommodations under the PWFA, much like employees in New York. However, pregnancy discrimination is a persistent problem in many workplaces. If you have been treated unfairly at work because of your pregnancy, consult an experienced employment lawyer.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.