The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“PWFA”) is a new law that expands protections for pregnant workers throughout the country. This law requires covered employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to a worker’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation will cause the employer an “undue hardship.”
Let’s breakdown the facets of this law.
In this situation, a “Covered Employer” includes both private and public sector employers with at least 15 employees, Congress, Federal agencies, employment agencies, and labor organizations. For employees whose employers do not fit into these categories, the employees still have the right to request accommodations. They are not, however, guaranteed the same job protections or assurances regarding accommodations.
The term “Reasonable Accommodation” is broad and undefined, which leaves a lot of room for interpretation. A lot of wiggle room can be helpful, as it allows employees to assess the nuances of their roles and make requests that may not be applicable or feasible for other job positions. The employer, however, has input on defining “reasonableness” and may have different opinions than the employee as to what would be a reasonable accommodation.
Employees seeking reasonable accommodations under the PWFA should be prepared to brainstorm with their employers and work together to determine what adjustments could be made to the employee’s duties, schedule, break times, etc. As part of this process, an employer may request a note from the employee’s doctor or make modifications to the employee’s requests.
Although it seems straightforward, ensuring that the employer knows about the need for an accommodation can be tricky to execute in certain situations. For example, due to miscommunication, changes in staff, or simple human error, an employer may claim that they never knew about an employee’s need for an accommodation and thus did not have a duty to provide one.
While there is no one way to put an employer on notice regarding a need for an accommodation, employees can protect themselves by documenting their requests in writing (such as via email), following their employer’s policies for providing notice, and following up with their employers when there has been a delayed response.
Like the term “Reasonable Accommodation”, the term “Undue Hardship” is also undefined. Employers may deny employees reasonable accommodations when the employer believes that the proposed accommodations would cause an “Undue Hardship” to the employer. In other words, if the accommodation is too expensive or difficult to implement, the employer may refuse to grant the accommodation.
Again, to avoid an employer denying an accommodation request for being an “undue hardship” employees will likely need to brainstorm with their employers to determine an accommodation that is mutually agreeable to both parties. Employers have the right to reject proposed accommodations that are undue hardships for the employer, so maintaining open communications with the employer are important for employees seeking accommodations under the PWFA.
If you believe that your employer has denied you a reasonable accommodation under the PWFA, please do not hesitate to reach out to legal counsel.