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Detailed Insights from the EEOC's Final Rule on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Updated: Apr 26

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has finalized its rule to implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), marking a significant advancement in workplace rights for pregnant employees. The final rule, set to take effect on June 18, 2024, aims to clarify and expand the accommodations that employers must provide to pregnant workers. This article delves into the specifics of the final rule, its implications for both employers and employees, and incorporates an overview of the more nuanced aspects from the extensive interpretative guidance provided by the EEOC.


For additional information regarding Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and to find out how this could impact your business, please contact our Managing Partner, Richard Liu, at richard.liu@consultils.com.





Understanding the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act


The PWFA mandates that employers provide "reasonable accommodations" to employees or applicants with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless doing so would cause "undue hardship" for the employer. This act enhances protections under existing laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), specifically addressing the needs of pregnant workers. Notably, the PWFA does not supersede state or local laws that offer greater protections, reflecting a baseline standard across the United States.


Key Provisions of the Final Rule


Reasonable Accommodation

The term “reasonable accommodation,” originating from the ADA, is also used within the PWFA. The EEOC's final rule specifies that it generally refers to modifications or changes in the work environment or in how things are usually done to accommodate an employee’s needs. This may include:


  • Providing frequent breaks

  • Permitting sitting or standing

  • Adjusting work schedules, part-time work, and paid and unpaid leave

  • Offering telework

  • Ensuring accessible parking

  • Assigning light duty

  • Modifying the work environment for accessibility

  • Job restructuring

  • Temporarily suspending one or more essential functions

  • Acquiring or modifying equipment, uniforms, or devices

  • Adjusting or modifying examinations, training, or policies


An Expansive Definition of Physical and Mental Conditions

The EEOC has adopted an extensive interpretation of “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” including but not limited to current and past pregnancy, potential or future pregnancy, lactation (including breastfeeding and pumping), use of contraception, menstruation, infertility and fertility treatments, endometriosis, miscarriage, and stillbirth. Significantly, this also encompasses the decision to have or not have an abortion, among other conditions. Furthermore, “related medical conditions” may include both new and pre-existing conditions that are affected by pregnancy or childbirth.


Additionally, the rule uses the phrase “related to, affected by, or arising out of” to broadly define conditions that may require accommodations. This means the obligation to provide reasonable accommodation can be triggered even if the pregnancy or related condition is not the direct or major cause of the employee’s limitations.


Nuanced Analysis of "Undue Hardship"

The concept of "undue hardship" provides a threshold beyond which an employer is not required to provide accommodations. Under the PWFA, it aligns with the ADA's definition, signifying something that would be significantly difficult or expensive in relation to the size of the business, its financial resources, and the nature of its operations. The EEOC's guidance on this matter includes considerations such as:


  • The length of time the accommodation is needed.

  • The availability of alternative positions or duties for the employee.

  • The nature and importance of the employee's job functions and the extent to which they can be modified or reassigned.

  • Historical precedents of accommodations made for other employees in similar positions.

  • Possible alternatives for covering tasks, such as hiring temporary replacements or redistributing tasks among existing staff.

Moreover, the EEOC has identified a limited number of modifications that are presumed not to cause undue hardship, simplifying the assessment for employers. These include:


  • Allowing the employee to carry or keep water nearby and take additional restroom breaks as needed.

  • Permitting the employee to sit or stand as needed.

  • Permitting breaks for food and drink as necessary.

While these accommodations are seen as "predictable assessments," employers are still expected to conduct individualized evaluations to ensure that providing these accommodations does not pose an undue hardship in their specific circumstances.


Enforcement and Compliance

The final rule emphasizes that unnecessary delays in providing accommodations can be viewed as a denial, potentially violating the PWFA. Moreover, the rule introduces a cap on monetary damages for violations where the employer has demonstrated a "good faith effort" to provide reasonable accommodations.




What Can Employers Do Now


The effective date of the final rule is June 18, 2024. To prepare, employers should take the following steps:


  • Review the final regulations and understand the detailed examples of reasonable accommodations from the EEOC’s guidance.

  • Train HR on the new regulations and ensure they have access to the suggested accommodations list.

  • Consult with legal counsel to update any pregnancy accommodation policies and related forms to ensure compliance with the final regulations.


Conclusion


The EEOC’s final rule on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act provides critical guidelines for supporting pregnant employees effectively. By expanding the definition of what constitutes a pregnancy-related condition and clarifying employer responsibilities, the rule aims to foster a more inclusive and supportive work environment. Employers must now review and possibly adjust their policies to align with these new regulations, ensuring compliance and supporting their employees' health and well-being during pregnancy.

 

For additional information regarding Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and to find out how this could impact your business, please contact our Managing Partner, Richard Liu, at richard.liu@consultils.com.


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Richard Liu, Esq. is the Managing Counsel of ILS. He serves clients as a management-side defense lawyer specializing in employment and business litigation. Richard is also an expert on litigation prevention and compliance. He regularly advises Fortune 500 companies and startups on employment, labor, and commercial matters.


Email: richard.liu@consultils.com | Phone: 626-344-8949


*Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal opinion and does not create any attorney-client relationship.

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