Empowering Pregnant Workers: Ensuring a Supportive and Inclusive Workplace Environment

Pregnancy and the birth of a child are significant milestones in a woman’s life, but they can also bring about unique challenges, particularly in the workplace. It is essential for expecting and new mothers to be aware of their rights and the protections available to them under the law to ensure they have a better balance between their work and their family. In this article, we will explore the employment protections in place for pregnant workers and new mothers.



Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA)

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is a federal law aimed at preventing unlawful discrimination against pregnant workers in the United States. It is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and who was responsible to issue regulations covering the law. The main goal of this act is to ensure that pregnant employees with known limitations are provided with reasonable accommodations to allow them to continue working safely throughout their pregnancies.

Under the PWFA, private and public sector employers are required to make necessary accommodations for pregnant workers. Examples of reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers include, but are not limited to, “the ability to sit or drink water; receive closer parking; have flexible hours; receive appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel; receive additional break time to use the bathroom, eat, and rest; take leave or time off to recover from childbirth; and be excused from strenuous activities and/or activities that involve exposure to compounds not safe for pregnancy.” EEOC

These accommodations aim to protect both the health and job security of pregnant employees. By passing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, lawmakers hope to address issues of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and promote equal opportunities for pregnant individuals. This law seeks to create a more inclusive and supportive work environment for all employees, regardless of their pregnancy status. Employers who fail to provide reasonable accommodation as required by the PWFA by may be subject to an adverse action.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is a United States federal statute that prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Enacted in 1978 as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the PDA aims to protect pregnant employees from being treated unfairly in the workplace.

Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees or job applicants on the basis of pregnancy. This includes actions such as refusing to hire a pregnant woman, firing or demoting an employee because she is pregnant, or denying her opportunities for promotion or training due to her pregnancy status.

Employers are also required to treat pregnant employees in the same way as they would treat other employees who have temporary disabilities. This means providing reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, such as modified duties, light duty work assignments, or time off for prenatal appointments.

Overall, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act serves to ensure that women are not penalized for becoming pregnant and that they can continue working without fear of losing their jobs or facing discriminatory treatment. By promoting equality and protecting the rights of pregnant workers, the PDA plays a crucial role in advancing gender equality in the workplace.

Pregnancy and Leave from Work

Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides eligible employees with unpaid, job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons, including prenatal care, childbirth recovery, and bonding with a new child.

Prenatal care is crucial for the health and well-being of both the mother and the baby. It involves regular check-ups with healthcare providers to monitor the progress of the pregnancy, address any health concerns, and ensure a safe delivery. FMLA allows expecting mothers to take time off work to attend these appointments without fear of losing their job. Employees seeking fertility treatments may also be covered by the FMLA.

Childbirth recovery is a physically demanding process that requires time for rest and recuperation. FMLA enables new mothers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after giving birth to recover from childbirth-related conditions such as postpartum recovery, postpartum depression, or complications. This time off allows mothers to focus on their own healing and adjustment to motherhood without the added stress of returning to work immediately.

Bonding with a new child is an important aspect of parenting that can have long-lasting effects on the parent-child relationship. FMLA recognizes the significance of this bonding period by allowing eligible employees, including both mothers and fathers, to take time off work to bond with their newborn or newly adopted child within the first year after birth or placement. This uninterrupted time together helps foster strong emotional connections between parents and children, promoting healthy development and attachment.

In conclusion, FMLA provides essential support for individuals navigating pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood by ensuring they have the necessary time off work to prioritize their health, recovery, and bonding with their new child. By recognizing the importance of these life events, FMLA promotes family well-being while protecting employees’ jobs during these critical moments in their lives.

Pregnant workers

State Pregnancy Leave

In addition to the protections under the FLMA, a growing number of states are providing paid family and/or medical leave to employees, some of which explicitly protect pregnant employees, new working mothers, and who have suffered a pregnancy loss event such as a miscarriage or stillbirth. State that have enacted family and/or medical leave laws include:

CaliforniaIllinoisMinnesotaOregon
ColoradoMaineNew HampshireRhode Island
ConnecticutMarylandNew JerseyVermont
DelawareMassachusettsNew YorkWashington
DC

The ADA and Reasonable Accommodations

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), signed into law in 1990, prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in various aspects of public life, including employment. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with disabilities, enabling them to perform essential functions of their jobs, unless doing so would impose a good faith undue hardship on the employer.

In the context of pregnancy, the ADA has been interpreted to cover certain conditions related to pregnancy that may qualify as disabilities. For instance, complications such as gestational diabetes, severe morning sickness, or pregnancy-induced hypertension may substantially limit a woman’s ability to perform major life activities, thus falling under the ADA’s protection.

However, it’s important to note that the ADA does not explicitly require accommodations for pregnancy itself. Instead, it covers pregnancy-related conditions that meet the definition of a disability. This has led to some limitations in its coverage for pregnant workers whose conditions may not be considered disabilities under the ADA. However, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) help provide the reasonable accommodation protections for pregnant workers who do not qualify as having a pregnancy-related condition under the ADA.

Break Time for Nursing Mothers

Federal Law

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers to provide reasonable break time for a qualified employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express milk. Employers are also required to provide a private, non-bathroom space for nursing mothers to pump and express milk. This non-restroom, private place must be shielded from view and free from intrusion by coworkers or the public. Also, certain small businesses with fewer than 50 employees may be exempt from the requirement if compliance would impose undue hardship.

When Congress included in the ACA a provision that allows working mothers to nurse during the workday, they determined the following benefits would result:

  1. Support for Breastfeeding Mothers: The provision acknowledges the importance of breastfeeding for the health and well-being of infants. By ensuring that nursing mothers have the time and space to express milk during the workday, it supports their ability to continue breastfeeding after returning to work.
  2. Health Benefits for Infants: Breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for infants, including reduced risk of infections, allergies, and chronic diseases. By facilitating breastfeeding through workplace accommodations, the provision indirectly contributes to improved infant health outcomes.
  3. Retention and Productivity: Supporting nursing mothers in the workplace can enhance employee morale, retention, and productivity. When mothers feel supported in balancing work and breastfeeding responsibilities, they are more likely to remain in the workforce and perform effectively.
  4. Legal Compliance: Compliance with the Break Time for Nursing Mothers provision helps employers meet their legal obligations under the FLSA. By providing the necessary break time and space for nursing mothers, employers reduce the risk of facing legal complaints or penalties for non-compliance.

State Laws

In additional to the federal requirement, many states have their own laws providing additional protections for nursing workers. According to the US Department of Labor (DOL), as of 2023, thirty-one (31) states had enacted laws providing nursing mother protections.

These state laws may provide the same protection as the federal law or offer additional protections and resources. These additional protections may include:

  1. Extended Coverage: Some states extend coverage to employers not covered by the federal provision. This means smaller businesses may also be required to provide accommodations for nursing mothers.
  2. Broader Definitions: States may define “reasonable break time” more expansively than the federal law, ensuring that nursing mothers have adequate time to express milk.
  3. Stronger Privacy Protections: States may strengthen privacy protections by requiring lactation spaces to be dedicated solely to breastfeeding employees, with lockable doors and appropriate amenities.
  4. Educational Resources: States may offer educational resources and support for employers and employees regarding lactation accommodations and breastfeeding rights in the workplace.
  5. Penalties and Enforcement: Some states impose penalties for non-compliance with lactation accommodation laws, incentivizing employers to adhere to the regulations.

Below are links to each states laws regarding nursing worker breaks:

Conclusion

Employment protections for workers who are pregnant or nursing are crucial in ensuring that women can balance their professional responsibilities with their roles as expectant or new mothers. By understanding these legal protections and advocating for their rights when necessary, women can navigate their careers without compromising their health or well-being during this special stage of life.

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