As part of the bill funding the federal government, President Biden signed into law the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) and the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act). These relatively unknown laws are important pieces of legislation carrying with them significant changes to the workplace for pregnant employees.
Starting June 27, 2023, employers will be required to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. Previously, employers were only required to accommodate pregnant workers whose pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions rose to the level of a disability or when the employer made accommodations for similarly situated non-pregnant workers. So, in the past, the analysis for a pregnant employee’s accommodation request was no different than any other employee requesting an accommodation for a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
With the passage of the PFWA, however, employers now have to make accommodations for pregnancies, not just pregnancy related conditions rising to the level of a disability. Practically speaking, this means that an employer must provide a reasonable accommodation to an employee who is pregnant (but does not have a disability) if such accommodation will allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. For example, an employer might be required to provide lifting and bathroom accommodations for pregnant employees. Thus, the PFWA expands protections for pregnant employees beyond those previously afforded to them under federal law.
Unlike the PFWA, the PUMP Act went into immediate effect upon signing of the funding bill by President Biden. The PUMP Act requires that employers provide reasonable break time to employees to express breast milk. It also requires the employer to provide a private, non-public place to express the milk that is not a bathroom. The private location requirement applies to all employers, unless you are a private employer with 50 employees or less and can show that providing such a location would constitute an undue burden.
Although most of these requirements were already in effect since 2010, they only applied to hourly, non-exempt employees. Now, the break time and private location requirements apply to both hourly non-exempt employees and salaried exempt employees.
Both the PFWA and the PUMP Act expand the protections to pregnant and nursing employees in the workplace. Employers will want to review their policies and consult with experienced employment counsel to navigate these significant changes.