I n the final days of 2022, President Biden signed into law the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which went into effect on June 27, 2023. The law was backed by a surprising bipartisan coalition that included workers’ rights groups, the Society for Human Resources Management, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, ACLU and U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Talk about strange bedfellows. But here we are, and here’s what you need to know to help your clients—employers or employees— understand the law:
What is PWFA? A new law requiring covered employers to make “reasonable accommodations to the known limitations related to the pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition of a qualified employee” unless the employer can demonstrate undue hardship. The statute is modeled largely on the Americans with Disabilities Act, including the ADA’s interactive process. It applies to private and public sector (Congress, federal agencies, state, local and municipal agencies) employers with at least 15 employees, employment agencies, and labor organizations. It is enforced in the same manner as other federal employment discrimination laws, so claims against private employers are initiated by filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and can lead to court action and damages.
Why do employees need pregnancy accommodation? Most pregnant people will need at least some changes at work, whether due to normal pregnancy symptoms (morning sickness, bladder control issues, increased thirst, growing belly) or more serious complications (gestational diabetes, preeclampsia). Employees in certain jobs may require accommodation to avoid hazards, like exposure to toxics or the risk of falls. Employees may likewise need accommodation to meet their health needs associated with childbirth, infertility, pregnancy termination and loss, and lactation—all of which are covered by PWFA. A key purpose of the law is to keep pregnant employees working for as long as they want to and are able to, which benefits them and their employers. What types of accommodations must be made? It ranges widely, depending on the employee’s needs and job duties. Examples include flexible hours to attend prenatal care appointments, a chair to sit on while checking out customers at the cash register, a temporary transfer to a position that is safer during pregnancy, work from home to avoid exposure to COVID-19, and assistance with lifting. For more, see the Center for WorkLife Law’s guide,