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Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Allows Soon-To-Be Mothers to Request Accommodations

Approximately 70% of all expecting women work during their pregnancy

Employers are now legally bound to offer reasonable accommodations to pregnant and postpartum women under a new federal law.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act went into effect on June 27, roughly six months after its passage. Pregnant women and new mothers can request additional or longer breaks, flexible work schedules, closer parking space, leave for medical appointments, and temporary transfers due to known limitations provided the accommodation does not cause “undue hardship” for the employer.

The law extends to employees of private or public sector organizations with at least 15 employees, as well as Congress, Federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations.

Pregnant Workers Protection laws have been enacted in at least 30 states. The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes that the PWFA does not “replace federal, state, or local laws that are more protective of workers affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”

The PWFA was passed by the Senate in December 2022 as part of an omnibus spending bill. 

Pregnant workers across the country, particularly those in low-income jobs and in the service industries, have faced heartbreaking challenges when requesting accommodations in the name of their health—many forced into unsafe working conditions, reduced pay, unpaid leave, or termination,” wrote the National Employment Lawyer Association in a statement praising the bipartisan leadership that backed the bill. “No worker should have to choose between risking their job and risking their health or pregnancy. The PWFA, which garnered widespread bipartisan support throughout the country from workers advocates to chambers of commerce to religious employers, ensures that pregnant workers will have better working conditions while protecting their income at a time when they need it most.”

The American Civil Liberties Union also celebrated the PWFA’s passage, stating that the new law will allow pregnant women “to stay in the workforce while maintaining a healthy pregnancy.”

When a pregnant worker is forced to quit, coerced into taking unpaid leave, or fired because her employer refuses to provide a temporary job accommodation, the economic impact can be severe; if she is the sole or primary breadwinner for her children, as nearly half of working women are, her entire family will be without an income when they most need it. She further may be denied unemployment benefits because she is considered to have left her job voluntarily,” the legal advocacy group wrote. “Conversely, if a pregnant worker remains at work despite being denied the modifications she needs because she is desperate not to lose income, she may put her health and pregnancy at risk. PWFA would end this Catch-22.”

The federal government had previously attempted to safeguard pregnant workers through the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition to the PWFA, Congress also enacted the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act in 2022 – expanding on the previously passed Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act. The law mandates employers allow new mothers reasonable breaks and private spaces to pump breast milk for up to one year after delivery.  

According to Forbes, 2.8 million pregnant women work during their pregnancy which equates to 70% of all pregnant women. Additionally, 80% of all first-time pregnant working women work until their final month of pregnancy. 

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