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What is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

  • By: lipplaw
    Published: August 21, 2023

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PFWA) is a sweeping law protecting pregnant workers that had bipartisan support. It will give pregnant workers and new mothers workplace accommodations that were previously unavailable to them.

What Employers Are Covered By the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

Private and public employers with 15+ employees are covered by the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. 

What are the key provisions of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act? 

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires employers with 15+ employees to provide workplace accommodations to employees who are pregnant or have childbirth-related conditions. 

If a covered employer does not accommodate worker covered by the PWFA, they can be subject to EEOC charges, lawsuits, and responsibility for paying legal damages to the impacted employee.

The PWFA operates similarly to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which is the federal law protecting employees with disabilities. The PWFA and ADA both require employers to go through an accommodations process with eligible employees to obtain reasonable workplace accommodations. However, unlike the ADA, a worker requesting accommodations under the PWFA can still receive workplace protections and accommodations, even if they cannot perform their essential job functions, because of the temporary nature of pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum needs.

What are Examples of Reasonable Accommodations Under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

Examples of reasonable accommodations under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act include, but are not limited to:

  • The “ability to sit or drink water”; 
  • “Receive closer parking;” 
  • “Have flexible hours;” 
  • “Receive appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel;” 
  • “Receive additional break time to use the bathroom, eat, and rest;” 
  • “Take leave or time off to recover from childbirth; and” 
  • “be excused from strenuous activities and/or activities that involve exposure to compounds not safe for pregnancy.”

House Committee on Education and Labor Report on the PWFA

The requested accommodations cannot place an undue burden on the employer, which is something that is significantly difficult or expensive for the employer.

What Damages Are Available Under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

If an employer violates the PWFA, the affected employee can recover lost wages, compensatory damages – which can include emotional distress damages for emotional distress – punitive damages, and attorneys fees and costs. The damages amount varies and provides a statutory cap based on the employer’s size.

For employers with 15-100 employees, the statutory cap is $50,000.

For employers with 101-200 employees, the cap is $100,000.

For employers with 201-500 employees, the cap is $200,000.

For employees with over 500 employees, the limit is $300,000.

What is the process to file a claim under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

An employee must first file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This is called exhausting the employee’s administrative remedies, since the EEOC is the administrative agency in charge of processing claims involving federal employment laws. After filing with the EEOC, and going through the EEOC process, the employee receives a Notice of Right to Sue letter from the EEOC, which requires them to file their claim in court within 90 days. The PWFA claim can be filed in state or federal court.

How Can Covered Employers Comply with the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

A best practice for employers is to have an employee handbook directing pregnant and other covered workers under the PWFA to notify their supervisor or human resources if they need a workplace accommodation. Then, supervisors should be trained on what to do if a worker requests a workplace accommodation. 

Another best practice is to have an accommodations form for your employees to fill out requesting an accommodation in writing. Having proper documentation of accommodation requests is necessary to protect the company and ensure that your workers are notifying you of their workplace accommodation needs. 

Once you receive the completed accommodation form, it’s important that you process the request promptly, and ensure you can come to an agreement with your employee about what accommodations to provide. Note that once you provide a particular accommodation to one employee, you may get requests from other employees for a similar accommodation, and so you will want to think through this possibility before you agree to a particular accommodation request.

With the proper employment policies and procedures, the process to accommodate an employee who is preparing for parenthood or is a new parent will be streamlined and make your workforce feel supported during this significant time in their life.

If your organization has employees in Washington, DC, Maryland, or Virginia, and needs assistance with workplace policies or employee issues, contact Lipp Law today to set up a time to speak with an experienced employment lawyer

Kathryn Megan Lipp

Katie dedicates her practice to employment separation guidance.
Based on her successful employment litigation practice...Read More