A New Law Offers Pregnant Workers More Protections

Employers in the United States are now mandated to grant their employees unpaid leave to recover from childbirth or abortion, thanks to the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act finalized Monday.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) requires employers to provide a "reasonable accommodation" to an employee's known limitations due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions unless the accommodation will cause the employer significant difficulty or expense.

The Act applies to private and public sector employers with 15 or more employees, as well as Congress and Federal agencies, and to employment agencies and labor organizations.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces the law, released its final regulations on Monday despite the Act being enacted in the summer of 2023.

What are 'reasonable accommodations'?

Reasonable accommodations refer to changes in the work environment or the way things are usually done at work. Some examples of reasonable accommodations covered under the PWFA include the following:

  • Frequent breaks to eat, drink, rest, or use the restroom.
  • Changing equipment, devices, or workstations, such as providing a stool to sit on.
  • Changing a work schedule, such as having shorter hours, part-time work, or a later start time.
  • Telework.
  • Leave for health care appointments.
  • Leave to recover from childbirth or other medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.

However, the regulations don't specify the length of unpaid leave workers can take to recover from childbirth or pregnancy-related conditions.

What are 'known limitations'?

A known limitation covered by the Act is a physical or mental condition related to pregnancy that an employee or their representative communicated to the employer.

Pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions covered by the Act include uncomplicated pregnancies, vaginal deliveries or cesarean sections, miscarriage, postpartum depression, and lactation, among others.

The regulations also cover abortion, even in states where access to it is strictly limited. This means employees are entitled to unpaid leave if they need to travel out of state to obtain abortion care.

Limitations can be minor or modest and can be episodic, such as migraines or morning sickness. They can also mean that an employee needs to take actions to protect their health, including not being around certain chemicals or limiting physical tasks like lifting.

The employee or applicant should tell the employer they have a limitation and need an adjustment or change in their working conditions. In most cases, providing supporting documentation will not be needed.

The PWFA does not replace federal, state, or local laws that are more protective of workers, both employees and job applicants, affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

What do advocates say about the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

The National Women's Law Center applauded implementing the PWFA, saying that the regulations will help ensure that employers can no longer use pregnancy as an excuse to push workers out of their jobs.

"We are also gratified that despite attempts by anti-abortion extremists to play politics with our lives, the EEOC remained true to the law and followed long-standing precedent that prohibits discrimination against workers who decide to have an abortion," Emily Martin, a chief program officer at the National Women's Law Center, said in a statement.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) said the PWFA plays a critical role in ensuring that people are able to continue working without jeopardizing their health.

Verda J. Hicks, M.D., FACOG, president of the ACOG, said in the statement, "Families should have peace of mind that they won't face financial hardship due to pregnancy-related job loss, and workers who are pregnant should not have to fear compromising their own health and well-being to maintain their employment."


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