Update |

The EEOC Finalized Its Rule Implementing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: 5 Things You Should Know!

1.) The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a historic law that protects the health and well-being of pregnant people in the workplace.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is a groundbreaking civil rights law that gives pregnant and postpartum workers the right to receive reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Employers must provide these reasonable accommodations unless the employer can show that providing the accommodation would result in an “undue hardship” (e.g., it’s really difficult to provide or it is very expensive). The PWFA was passed into law in December 2022 and went into effect in the summer of 2023. On Monday, April 15, 2024 the EEOC released its final regulations which will be published on April 19, 2024 and go into effect 60 days later.

The PWFA ensures that no one is forced to choose between their health and well-being and their job.

2.) The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was necessary because pregnancy discrimination in the workplace has been a real and serious problem for decades.

Sex discrimination, which includes discrimination based on pregnancy and related medical conditions, is pervasive in the workplace. Congress has been trying to address pregnancy discrimination for decades. In fact, in 1978 Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which made it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The PDA was critical for ensuring women were able to remain and advance in the workplace before, during, and after childbirth. All good things. Unfortunately, courts interpreted the protections offered by the PDA narrowly, allowing employers to refuse to accommodate workers with medical needs arising out of pregnancy, which meant that many folks were being forced to choose between their health and their jobs.

We know that while many pregnant people can expect a routine pregnancy and healthy birth, some people must make adjustments in their work activities. These reasonable and medically necessary workplace accommodations can include SIMPLE THINGS like allowing for additional bathroom breaks, having a glass of water at a work station, having food at your desk, access to additional masks or PPE, heavy-lifting restrictions, or a stool to sit on to decrease time spent standing.

You might read that and go “seriously? We needed a whole separate law to ensure employers provide basic accommodations to pregnant and postpartum workers?” Yes, seriously we do. There are countless stories of employers discriminating against pregnant people and refusing to provide these basic accommodations. Take for example, the UPS worker who was denied “light duty” and then lost medical coverage when she was placed on unpaid leave; the Walmart employee fired for carrying a water bottle; and the woman who suffered a miscarriage and lost her pregnancy because her employer would not provide her with the reasonable accommodations, mainly weightlifting restrictions, she needed.

The health and economic consequences of this type of pregnancy discrimination are profound. Pregnant workers, especially Black and Latinx workers and those being paid low-wages, are routinely fired or pushed out when they need pregnancy accommodations threatening livelihoods at a time when they need the security of a paycheck the most. And others may have no choice but to risk their health in order to provide for themselves and their loved ones – sometimes with devastating results for both the parent’s and infant’s health outcomes.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is intended to fill the gaps left by the PDA and help put an end to pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

3.) The EEOC Rule clarified PWFA applies to a wide range of conditions that can be experienced during pregnancy.

On Monday, April 15, 2024, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released final regulations that details how the law will work in practice. In short, this rule rocks.

Under the EEOC rule some examples of reasonable accommodations employers with fifteen or more employees must provide include:

  • Frequent breaks;
  • Accommodations to remain sitting/standing;
  • Schedule changes, part-time work, paid and/or unpaid leave;
  • Telework;
  • Parking;
  • Light duty (e.g., lifting restrictions);
  • Job restructuring;
  • Temporarily suspending one or more essential functions of a job;
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment, uniforms, or devices.

The EEOC also clarified the wide range of conditions that can be experienced during pregnancy that may require a reasonable accommodation, including: morning sickness, gestational diabetes, time off for doctors appointments, miscarriage care, postpartum depression, lactation needs, among many others.

The EEOC rule is comprehensive and provides significant guidance to employers about their obligations. PRH commented on the EEOC’s proposed rules and provided our input. You can find those comments here.

4.) The EEOC Rule Implementing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires reasonable accommodations, including unpaid time off, for pregnancy related care including child birth and abortions.

The EEOC’s groundbreaking rule complies with long standing precedent and understanding of sex discrimination and notes the PWFA’s protections apply to pregnancy related care, including childbirth and abortions. The rule specifically notes that most employees across the country will now have access to at the very least unpaid time off to recover from childbirth or to access an abortion, including time away if someone needs to travel for abortion care. Notably, the EEOC made clear that these protections apply regardless of whether someone lives in a state that restricts abortion or not. These provisions relating to time off are especially important for workers who do not qualify for leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides for 12 weeks of unpaid time off but only applies to employers with 50 or more employees. It is estimated that about half of people in the U.S. cannot access unpaid time off through the Family and Medical Leave Act because they either have not been employed by the employer long enough or the employer has less than 50 employees. The PWFA is critical to help address this gap.

5.) Providers, you can help by sharing information about the rule and making sure your patients have information about their rights.

As providers providing comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care you can help patients understand their rights under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Some additional resources can be found here:

MiQuel Davies
Director of Public Policy