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Complying with the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Challenges and Strategies for Handling Essential Job Duties

In our previous blog, "Detailed Insights from the EEOC's Final Rule on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act," we introduced the foundational aspects of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). Building on that discussion, this post dives deeper into one of the most impactful changes brought by the PWFA: the approach to essential job duties. This provision could potentially complicate compliance for employers and requires careful consideration and strategic planning.

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

Understanding the Essential Duties Provision

Under the ADA, employers are required to accommodate employees in such a way that they can continue performing their essential job functions. The PWFA modifies this approach by allowing for the possibility that pregnant employees might temporarily be excused from performing these essential duties if they are unable to do so due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Importantly, this is contingent on the expectation that the employee will be able to resume these duties "in the near future."

The term "in the near future" generally aligns with a timeframe up to 40 weeks, accommodating the duration of a pregnancy. However, the PWFA also accounts for other related conditions, such as postpartum depression, where the necessary accommodation period may be less clearly defined and requires a more individualized assessment.

Challenges Faced by Employers

This provision introduces several challenges for employers:
  • Operational Disruption: Temporarily excusing an employee from performing essential tasks can disrupt operations, particularly in small teams or in specialized roles.

  • Policy Adjustment and Management Training: Employers need to update their accommodation policies and train management on these new requirements to ensure both legal compliance and operational effectiveness.

  • Balancing Compliance and Practicality: Employers must balance the need to comply with the PWFA while also managing the practical aspects of their business operations.


Strategic Recommendations for Effective Compliance

  • Policy Revision: Update employment policies to clearly define how essential duties are managed under the PWFA. Policies should include procedures for assessing the ability to temporarily suspend essential job duties and the criteria for determining if and when duties can be resumed.

  • Comprehensive Training Programs: Implement training programs for HR and line managers to educate them about the differences between ADA and PWFA requirements. Training should focus on how to handle requests for accommodations, the interactive process, and the legal implications of the PWFA.

  • Proactive Workforce Planning: Develop contingency plans for covering essential functions when they are temporarily suspended. This might include cross-training staff, creating temporary positions, or utilizing part-time workers.

  • Interactive Process Enhancement: Strengthen the interactive process by ensuring open communication channels between HR, managers, and affected employees. This process should focus on identifying possible accommodations and adjusting them as needed over time.

  • Documentation and Legal Compliance: Maintain detailed records of all communications, accommodations offered, and decisions made regarding each case. This documentation is crucial for defending against potential legal claims and demonstrating compliance with the PWFA.

  • Regular Policy Reviews and Updates: Given that the PWFA and its interpretations may evolve, regularly review and update policies and training programs to align with new legal developments and best practices.


The introduction of the PWFA’s regulations on essential job duties represents a significant shift in the landscape of employment law, particularly in how employers manage pregnancy-related accommodations. By understanding these changes thoroughly and preparing strategically, employers can not only comply with the new laws but also support their employees effectively, thereby fostering a more inclusive and adaptive workplace. Continue to follow our blog for more updates and in-depth analysis of how these changes affect the broader context of employment law.

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

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Richard Liu

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: | Phone: 626-344-8949

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


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