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Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: An Overview of the Final Rules and Their Impact


A pregnant woman sitting at ta desk easting an apple.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has recently released its final regulations implementing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). This landmark statute, which went into effect last summer, mandates "reasonable accommodation" for workers' pregnancy-related needs. The new regulations provide detailed guidance to workers, employers, and courts, ensuring that the full force of the law is given effect. In this article, we will delve into the specifics of the new rules, how they differ from existing regulations, and their implications for both pregnant employees and their employers.


What Are the Final Rules?

The PWFA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to workers with limitations caused by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer's business. These accommodations can range from minor adjustments, such as more frequent breaks or later start times, to more significant changes, like temporary reassignment of duties or suspension of risky tasks.

The EEOC's final regulations clarify that "pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions" includes abortion. This means that time off for abortion care, like time off for other medical procedures, is a reasonable accommodation required by the new statute.


How Do the Final Rules Differ from Existing Regulations?

While workers with disabilities have been entitled to reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for over 30 years, pregnant workers have lacked similarly explicit protections. The PWFA fills this gap by extending the right to accommodations to pregnant workers, eliminating the difficult choice between working under unsafe conditions or leaving their job altogether.


The inclusion of abortion as a "related medical condition" has drawn some criticism from those who argue that it forces employers to participate in their employees' abortion decisions. However, this interpretation is consistent with nearly half a century of legal precedent under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978, which prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, including abortion.


What Does the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Mean for Pregnant Employees?

The PWFA is a significant step forward for pregnant workers, particularly those in strenuous jobs that could be dangerous during pregnancy, such as healthcare, retail, and law enforcement. The new rules ensure that these workers can request and receive the temporary modifications they need to maintain their health and the health of their pregnancy without fear of job loss or retaliation.


The explicit inclusion of abortion care as a covered medical condition is especially important in light of the recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization decision, which has led to abortion bans and severe restrictions in many states. As a result, millions of people now face the prospect of traveling hundreds of miles to access this critical healthcare, making time off work even more essential.


What Does the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Mean for Employers?

Employers are now required to engage in a good-faith interactive process with employees who request accommodations due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. They must provide these accommodations unless they can demonstrate that doing so would impose an undue hardship on their business.


While some religious employers have sought exemptions from the PWFA's requirements, courts have consistently refused to grant blanket immunity from anti-discrimination laws. The EEOC's regulations provide for careful, case-by-case consideration of instances where a religious employer objects to an employee's need for accommodation.


Employers should review their policies and practices to ensure compliance with the PWFA and train their managers and human resources staff on the new requirements. Proactively addressing these issues can help prevent costly legal disputes and create a more supportive work environment for pregnant employees.


Reviewing and Updating Workplace Policies and Procedures

To ensure compliance with the PWFA, employers should carefully examine their existing workplace policies and procedures. Here are some key areas to focus on:


Reasonable Accommodation Policy: Employers should develop or update their reasonable accommodation policy to explicitly include pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions as covered reasons for accommodation requests. The policy should outline the interactive process for requesting and granting accommodations and provide examples of potential accommodations.


Leave Policies: Review leave policies to ensure they do not discriminate against pregnant workers or those who need time off for abortion care. Update policies to allow for reasonable accommodations, such as additional breaks or time off for medical appointments, without penalizing employees.


Job Descriptions and Essential Functions: Assess job descriptions and essential functions to identify tasks that may pose challenges for pregnant workers. Consider whether these tasks can be temporarily modified or reassigned as part of a reasonable accommodation.


Training: Provide training to managers, supervisors, and human resources staff on the requirements of the PWFA, including how to handle accommodation requests, engage in the interactive process, and maintain confidentiality.


Confidentiality: Ensure that policies and procedures protect the confidentiality of employees' medical information, including requests for accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or abortion care.


Retaliation Prevention: Emphasize that retaliation against employees who request or use accommodations under the PWFA is strictly prohibited. Include clear reporting mechanisms and investigation procedures for any alleged retaliation.


By proactively reviewing and updating workplace policies and procedures, employers can create a framework for compliance with the PWFA and foster a supportive environment for pregnant workers.


Navigating the Final Rules and Guidance on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) final rules and guidance on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) in a comprehensive, 125-page document. With such an extensive resource, it can be challenging to know where to start and how to find the most relevant information. To help make the process more manageable, we've created this guide to navigate the document and highlight the key sections and elements to focus on.


Background and Public Comments (Pages 1-87): The first 87 pages provide background information on the PWFA and explain how the EEOC responded to public comments during the rulemaking process. While this section offers valuable context, if you're looking for the core content of the final rules and guidance, you'll find it starting on page 88.


Regulations (Pages 88-93): The official regulations implementing the PWFA start on page 88. This section is crucial for understanding the legal requirements and definitions set forth by the EEOC. To quickly grasp the essential elements, pay special attention to:


  • Purpose (1636.1)

  • Definitions (1636.2 and 1636.3)

  • Nondiscrimination with regard to reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy (1636.4)

  • Remedies and enforcement (1636.5)

  • Relationship to other laws (1636.7)

Interpretive Guidance (Pages 94-125): The Interpretive Guidance, which begins on page 94, is an essential resource for understanding how the PWFA will be applied in real-life situations. This section includes 78 examples covering a wide range of scenarios. To get the most out of this section, focus on:


  • General information and terms used in the regulation and interpretive guidance (Section II)

  • Definitions specific to the PWFA (Section III)

  • Nondiscrimination with regard to reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy (Section IV)

  • Remedies and enforcement (Section V)

  • Relationship to other laws (Section VI)

You can find a digital copy of the final rules on the National Archive's Federal Register website.  It has a navigable table of contents and take search function to find specific topics or keywords of interest. This online resource makes it easy to see and navigate the final rules, allowing you to quickly locate relevant sections.


When reviewing the final rules and guidance, pay special attention to the definitions, examples of reasonable accommodations, the interactive process between employees and employers, and the relationship between the PWFA and other laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

 

Contact our Nuance Culture Consulting team to request a full policy review and recommendations for revision.

 

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