New law goes into effect to protect pregnant workers nationwide

Published: Jun. 28, 2023 at 11:00 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - On Tuesday, the Biden administration celebrated with activists as the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) went into effect nationwide. The new federal law requires employers to provide ‘reasonable’ accommodations to workers who have limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or other related medical conditions.

The PWFA applies to private and public sector employers with at least 15 employees as well as Congress, federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations. The federal law prohibits employers from requiring employees to accept an accommodation without a discussion. It also forbids employers from denying a job to an employee or requiring the employee to take leave based on their need for accommodation. Employers who fail to comply with the federal law must prove that the accommodations cause an ‘undue hardship’ on the business.

Virginia mom Lauren Portor, A Better Balance community advocate, said the new federal law protects people like her.

“I used to work at a shipyard down there (in Suffolk) and when I was about seven months pregnant, I started having some complications within my pregnancy. Some severe back pain, some severe nausea, to the point where my doctor actually requested and wrote me out of work to work from home. So once I went to my management and asked, ‘is that a possibility?’ they suggested that I take a leave of absence. And, that was just not a good idea, a good situation for me, because I needed that leave of absence for after I gave birth,” said Porter. “I tried to do a little bit of research to see, you know, is this legal? Is this possible? What can I do?”

Porter said she eventually did win her battle to work from home to ensure the health of her pregnancy after she contacted Human Resources. She called the PWFA ‘commonsense.’

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) said the PWFA can only be applied to situations that happened on or after June 27, 2023. PWFA also does not replace any other federal, state, or local law which may be more protective of pregnant workers.

The EEOC outlines these other federal laws which apply to pregnant workers and families:

- Title VII (enforced by the EEOC), which protects an employee from discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; and Requires covered employers to treat a worker affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions the same as other workers similar in their ability or inability to work; the ADA (enforced by the EEOC), which protects an employee from discrimination based on disability; and requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations to a person with a disability if the reasonable accommodation would not cause an undue hardship for the employer.

- While pregnancy is not a disability under the ADA, some pregnancy-related conditions may be disabilities under the law. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor), which provides covered employees with unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons; and

- The PUMP Act (Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act) (enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor), which broadens workplace protections for employees to express breast milk at work.

The PUMP Act was signed into law by President Joe Biden last year. To-wen Tseng, an advocate for MomsRising, reminds families it’s important to speak up against employers who don’t follow the law.

While nursing her child, she said she was denied accommodations to pump privately at work.

“I would encourage women like me, if you are not treated fairly at work, remember, it’s not a kindness for employers to support employees at work. It’s the law. And, you needed to stand up and speak out. And, not just for you, but for any mothers who can who can be treated wrong just like you,” said Tseng.