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This new federal law protects pregnant workers from discrimination

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act that took effect this week is set to help millions of people nationwide.
A doctor places a stethoscope on a pregnant woman's belly.
Posted at 9:11 AM, Jun 29, 2023

A new law went into effect June 27 that millions of American workers can benefit from.

Under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), employers will now have to offer "reasonable accommodations" to employees who are limited in what they can do because of pregnancy, childbirth or related health issues. Companies are expected to accommodate their employees unless doing so causes an "undue hardship" on their business operations.

Workers living in more than 30 states and cities are already protected by local laws ensuring that accommodations are made for pregnant workers. But the PWFA will apply to the whole country. There are already nationwide laws on the books that make it unlawful to terminate an employee on the basis of pregnancy or childbirth.

The new law applies to "covered employers,"  that is, private and public sector businesses with at least 15 employees.

"The PWFA is the culmination of a 10-year-long campaign to close gaps in civil rights laws so pregnant workers are not pushed out of jobs or forced to risk their health when they require reasonable accommodations on the job, like a water bottle to stay hydrated or a transfer away from strenuous heavy lifting," Elizabeth Gedmark, vice president of the employee advocacy group A Better Balance, told CBS News.

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The PWFA requires employers to support expecting workers by helping with things like closer parking spots, more flexible schedules, permission to wear maternity pants, more bathroom breaks, being able to sit instead of stand, and time off to recover from childbirth. They must go over these options with pregnant employees and be open to offering support when employees ask for it.

"Employees don’t have to use any magic language," Christine Bestor Townsend, an employment attorney, told CBS News. "Employers need to recognize the requests that come in and be prepared to deal with those requests."

According to an October 2022 report by the National Partnership for Women and Families, pregnant employees make up only about 1.6% of the overall workforce on average. But in a typical year, 70% of pregnant people work during their pregnancies. (And among those who are expecting for the first time, 8 in 10 work until their last month of pregnancy.) For many, having to work around dangerous chemicals or being forced to lift heavy objects could compel them to leave their jobs. In fact, according to the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, 23% of expectant workers have considered quitting due to a lack of accommodations during pregnancy.

Dina Bakst, a workers’ rights advocate and co-founder of A Better Balance, believes that this law will particularly help people in low-paying and male-dominated jobs.

"[Mandated bathroom access and water breaks] sound so basic, but for [workers] in retail and other low-wage industries with overly rigid, inflexible jobs, these kinds of accommodations can make a big difference," she told NBC News.

If an employer can’t accommodate a pregnant employee’s needs, time off may be offered as a last resort. And if an employee feels that an employer is not compliant with this new law, they can file a complaint with the EEOC.

This story was originally published by Jennifer Graham Kizer on Simplemost.com.