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Examples of how the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is interpreted and applied

On Behalf of | Jan 3, 2024 | Employment Law |

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) stands as a significant piece of legislation aimed at safeguarding the rights of expectant workers in the United States. Enacted to address concerns of discrimination against pregnant workers, the PWFA is a federal law that seeks to ensure equal employment opportunities for employees affected by childbirth, pregnancy and pregnancy-related medical conditions.

The act prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy and mandates employers to provide reasonable accommodations to expectant employees. Exploring examples of how PWFA is interpreted and applied can help pregnant employees advocate for their rights.

Example 1: Telework

Gabriela, a billing specialist in a doctor’s office, faces challenges in her first trimester with nausea and vomiting, which make commuting difficult. To address this, she makes a verbal request to work from home for two months. The billing work is feasible both at home and in the office.

  1. Known limitation: Gabriela’s nausea is pregnancy-related, requiring a change at work.
  2. Qualified: Gabriela can perform billing tasks with telework as a reasonable accommodation.
  3. Employer’s obligation: The employer must grant the accommodation unless undue hardship is proven.

Generally, undue hardship involves an unreasonably burdensome cost for an employer.

Example 2: Temporary suspension of an essential function

Nisha, a nurse assistant, receives advice to avoid lifting more than 25 pounds during her pregnancy. Since an essential part of her job involves heavy patients, she requests a temporary suspension of this duty and enrollment in a light-duty program.

  1. Known limitation: Nisha’s lifting restriction is pregnancy-related, necessitating a workplace adjustment.
  2. Qualified: Nisha seeks a temporary suspension of an essential function, aligning with the light-duty program.
  3. Employer’s obligation: The employer must reasonably accommodate Nisha by suspending the essential function, or provide an alternative, unless they can prove undue hardship.

A reverse concern could also be discriminatory. Meaning, if a pregnant worker is capable of continuing their job duties but is reassigned to a different assignment due to their condition, this could be unlawful.

Example 3: Appropriate uniform and safety gear

Ava, a pregnant police officer, addresses the need for a larger uniform and bulletproof vest. The union representative advocates for suitable gear to accommodate Ava’s growing pregnancy.

  1. Known limitation: Ava’s inability to wear standard gear is pregnancy-related, requiring a workplace adjustment.
  2. Qualified: Ava is qualified with the reasonable accommodation of appropriate safety gear.
  3. Employer’s obligation: The employer must grant the accommodation, facilitating safety and comfort for Ava, unless undue hardship is demonstrated.

The key takeaway for employees is to promptly communicate their needs related to pregnancy, just like Gabriela, Nisha and Ava did in the examples above. This gives employers ample time to assess and provide reasonable accommodations, such as telework, temporary duty suspensions or appropriate safety gear.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act serves as a safeguard, guiding workplaces to create environments that support expectant individuals. By understanding the act’s provisions, employees can request reasonable accommodation to help ensure that working during pregnancy is comfortable and safe. If they are denied their rights, seeking legal guidance is wise.