The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Strengthens Protection for Pregnant Employees

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), effective June 27, 2023, requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to a worker’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.[1] Covered employers” include private and public sector employers with at least 15 employees, Congress, federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations.

How does the PWFA add to the protections already in place?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, prohibits pregnancy discrimination, meaning that an employer cannot treat an employee in a disparate manner based on their pregnancy. However, receiving accommodations under Title VII has been difficult for pregnant women because a pregnant woman must show that her employer accommodated a coworker in the same or similar position.

The Americans with Disabilities Actof 1990 (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on a disability, including pregnancy-related disabilities like gestational diabetes. However, pregnancy is not a disability under the ADA, and many pregnancy-related symptoms and conditions are not covered.

The House Committee on Education and Labor found the protections provided under Title VII and the ADA “are insufficient to guarantee pregnant workers reasonable accommodations.”[2] The Committee wrote, “No worker should have to choose between their health, the health of their pregnancy, and the ability to earn a living.” Id.

The PWFA strengthens federal protections for pregnant employees by requiring covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations for limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The employer must provide the reasonable accommodation, unless the accommodations would create an “undue hardship,” meaning an unreasonable expense or effort, from the employer. Possible reasonable accommodations include sitting or drinking water while working, providing closer parking, flexible hours, extended break times, and leave, and being excused from strenuous activity or activities with dangerous exposure. Id.

In addition to requiring reasonable accommodations, the PWFA states it is unlawful for an employer to:

  1. Require an employee to accept an accommodation without engaging in an interactive process with the employee regarding accommodations;
  2. Deny employment opportunities based on an employee’s need for reasonable accommodations under the PWFA;
  3. Require an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided;
  4. Retaliate against an employee for exercising their rights under the PWFA; or
  5. Interfere with an employee’s PWFA rights.

Many states, including South Carolina, have state laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination and mandating reasonable accommodations.[3] The PWFA adds to more protective local, state, and federal laws; it does not replace them. Pregnant workers may be entitled to accommodations under the PWFA, Title VII, the ADA, FMLA, FLSA, and state law.

If a person feels they have been subjected to discrimination, retaliation, or denied accommodations, they should consult with an attorney regarding potential representation immediately, especially because urgent time limitations may affect your claims. 

-Beth Bowen

[1] Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

[3] See, SC Code § 1-13-80(A)(4); S.C. Code Ann. 1-13-30(T)(2)(b).

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