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Protections for Pregnant Workers Approved

A business woman giving a presentation to a group of people.

Editor's Note: The U.S. House of Representatives passed the spending bill on Dec. 23, following the Senate's approval on Dec. 22. President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on Dec. 29.

The U.S. Senate voted on Dec. 22 to include the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) in the federal spending package for 2023. Congress is expected to vote on the broad $1.7 trillion bill before the end of the workweek.

The PWFA would require employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for job applicants and employees with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions. In the omnibus bill, Congress also included the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (known as the PUMP Act) to expand workplace lactation accommodations.

"If you are pregnant and working during your pregnancy, you should have the right to workplace accommodations," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote on Twitter. "It's one of the most significant improvements in worker protections in years."

The law "ensures that pregnant women can have reasonable accommodations at work, including a water bottle, a stool, or extra bathroom breaks. Passing this law will help women maintain healthy pregnancies while continuing to work," Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., wrote on Twitter.

SHRM urged Congress to pass the PWFA. It "provides important workplace protections for pregnant workers. At the same time, it provides employers the flexibility and clarity they need to ensure pregnant workers can remain in the workplace," Emily Dickens, head of public affairs for SHRM, wrote in a letter to senators.

We've gathered a group of articles on the news from SHRM Online and other trusted news sources.

Aligns with ADA

The PWFA was modeled on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and it tracks with several state laws already passed to bar discrimination against pregnant workers. When it comes to workers who are breastfeeding, federal law already requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a clean space to express milk. But millions of workers, many of them salaried, were excluded from that law when it was passed as part of the federal Affordable Care Act in 2010. The PUMP Act would end the carve-out and extend protections to millions more.

Republicans are usually resistant to adding any new mandates on employers, but the PWFA and the PUMP Act both gained more than enough GOP support to overcome the 60-vote threshold. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops encouraged lawmakers to pass the PWFA.

(Huffington Post)

Bipartisan Support

The Senate has been scrambling to pass the $1.7 trillion spending package before the deadline on Dec. 23 and as a major winter storm was bearing down on much of the country. The PWFA and the PUMP Act garnered significant bipartisan support, as well as support from workers' advocates, the ACLU, A Better Balance and the National Education Association.

(Fast Company)

Reasonable Accommodations

Thousands of women lose their jobs each year—either due to being fired or placed on unpaid leave—because employers are under no obligation to offer pregnant workers reasonable accommodations. But the PWFA would compel employers to amend their existing reasonable-accommodation policies to clarify that they apply to employees who are pregnant, have pregnancy-related conditions or have recently given birth. Reasonable accommodations might include assigning light duty, permitting more frequent bathroom breaks or allowing a pregnant worker to drink water at her workstation.

Reasonable accommodations under the ADA are available to qualified individuals with disabilities, including those disabilities related to pregnancy. At least 31 states and the District of Columbia have passed bills similar to the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

(Axios and SHRM Online)

Temporary Accommodations

Reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers will likely look the same as accommodations for employees with other protected conditions. However, requests based on pregnancy are likely temporary and therefore may be easier to make. For example, a pregnant employee may be allowed to work remotely during the pregnancy with the expectation that the employee will return to the workplace after the baby is born. Accommodations that are typically not reasonable are those that eliminate an essential function of the job, create a new job for the employee or provide indefinite leave.

(SHRM Online)

Court Ruling

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin found that employers can exclude pregnant workers from light-duty work if they have a nondiscriminatory reason for doing so. On Aug. 16, the court ruled in favor of Walmart's previous policy of offering light-duty work to employees who were injured on the job, but not to pregnant employees.

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act states that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions must be treated the same as nonpregnant people who are similar in their ability or inability to work.

(SHRM Online)


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