Federal law requires employers to accommodate pregnant workers

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“PWFA”) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to a worker’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

Employers in New York, New Jersey and about 30 other states and cities also are required to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers.  Under the PWFA, employers nationwide with at least 15 employees are required to do the same, unless the accommodation will cause the employer an undue hardship.  As with all employment laws, whichever law is more favorable to the employee controls.

Note that the PWFA applies only to accommodations.  Existing federal and local laws make it illegal to fire or otherwise discriminate against workers on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. 

These laws include:

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act,
  • the Americans with Disabilities Act,
  • the Family and Medical Leave Act,
  • the PUMP Act,
  • the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, and
  • the New York State Human Rights Law.

Some examples of reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers include the ability to:

    • sit or drink water;
  • receive a closer parking spot;
  • have flexible hours;
  • receive appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel;
  • receive additional break time to use the bathroom, eat, or rest;
  • take time off to recover from childbirth; and
  • be excused from strenuous activities or those that involve exposure to compounds unsafe for pregnancy.

If any of these cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer, they do not have to be provided.

Finally, the PWFA prohibits:

  • requiring an employee to accept an accommodation without discussing it with them;
  • denying a job to a qualified person because they need a reasonable accommodation;
  • requiring an employee to take leave when another reasonable accommodation will allow them to keep working;
  • retaliating against an individual for reporting or opposing unlawful discrimination under the PWFA; and
  • interfering with anyone’s rights under the PWFA.

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