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On May 10, the Massachusetts House, by unanimous vote (150-to-0), passed the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. If enacted, the act will expand existing protections for pregnant employees in Massachusetts and require employers to provide pregnant women and new mothers with "reasonable accommodations" for their pregnancies and any conditions related to their pregnancies.
The bill (House, No. 3680) is expected to pass the Massachusetts Senate and be signed into law by Gov. Charlie Baker.
If enacted, the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will amend the state anti-discrimination law, Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 151B, to prohibit employers from:
The act provides that reasonable accommodation may include, but shall not be limited to: "(i) more frequent or longer paid or unpaid breaks; (ii) time off to recover from childbirth with or without pay; (iii) acquisition or modification of equipment or seating; (iv) temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position; (v) job restructuring; (vi) light duty; (vii) private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk; (viii) assistance with manual labor; or (ix) modified work schedules."
The employer bears the burden of proving undue hardship, which the act defines as "an action requiring significant difficulty or expense."
The act requires the employer and employee to "engage in a timely, good faith and interactive process to determine effective reasonable accommodations to enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the employee's job." Although an employer may require an employee to provide "documentation from an appropriate health care or rehabilitation professional," an employer may not require such documentation for the following accommodations: (1) more frequent restroom, food, or water breaks; (2) seating; and (3) limits on lifting over 20 pounds.
The act, if enacted, will not preempt or limit existing legal protections related to gender discrimination or pregnancy. Because the act's provisions will be part of Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 151B, violations will subject employers to the significant employee remedies available under Chapter 151B, which include uncapped compensatory and punitive damages, as well as reasonable attorney's fees and costs.
Robert M. Shea is an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in Boston. © Ogletree Deakins. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission.
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