The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) – Business Compliance and Implementation
Over decades, numerous local, state, and federal laws have been enacted to ensure employees are provided with sensible working conditions and protections from discrimination based on medical conditions and a range of other factors. On June 27, 2023, the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) joined these regulations as it went into effect to address accommodations for workers experiencing limitations as a result of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
Some businesses remain unaware of or have not yet acted to implement the PWFA, while others have taken steps to actively incorporate it in their workplace. Whether you are hearing about the PWFA for the first time or simply wish to double-check your company’s efforts, here we explore key aspects of the PWFA, as well as required and recommended actions for employers.
An Overview of the PWFA
Following on the heels of the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers (PUMP) Act, which went into effect earlier in 2023, the PWFA requires that companies with 15 or more employees provide “reasonable accommodations” for workers who are pregnant or experiencing limitations stemming from childbirth or associated medical conditions. With approximately thirty states having existing legislation that is analogous to the PWFA, even employers with less than 15 employees should verify whether they are already subject to similar requirements.
Reasonable accommodations refer to changes or adjustments to usual work processes, practices, or employee expectations. The EEOC, which administers the PWFA, provides several examples of potential accommodations under the PWFA, including:
- Allowing for additional break times to use the restroom, eat, and rest.
- Excusing workers from strenuous activities.
- Halting an employee’s exposure to materials unsafe for pregnancy.
- Permitting workers to sit and drink water as needed.
- Providing closer parking spaces and/or virtual work options.
- Offering flexibility in working hours.
Note that employers do not have to provide accommodations that would result in “undue hardship” on the business. “Undue hardship” is essentially defined as “any action requiring significant difficulty or expense.”
Proactive PWFA Implementation
Employers should be encouraged to view the PWFA not as “yet another mandate that we have to follow” but rather as a welcomed opportunity to demonstrate or reinforce how they care about and value employee well-being. Here are some of the PWFA implementation steps that employers should take:
- Define a process for submitting accommodation requests – Accommodation request submissions must allow for interactive dialogue between the employee and employer. Given the potentially sensitive nature of this dialogue, HR and people operations staff should be front and center to ensure requests are handled in the right way.
- Update all applicable employee materials – Make sure employment law posters, the employee handbook, onboarding material, and related items properly reflect the PWFA and how the company stands behind it.
- Ensure PWFA awareness across all employee and manager groups – Beyond the updates described above, use different communication mediums (1:1 meetings, department meetings, e-newsletters, etc.) to make sure everyone understands what the PWFA is and how the company supports it.
- Promote PWFA support in job postings and values statements – Being open and authentic about ensuring a family-friendly culture sends the right signal to prospective talent and can be a differentiator for employers.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) provides important new protections for workers seeking employer accommodations when facing limitations stemming from pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. Employers must be proactive to ensure compliance and effectively incorporate the PWFA into their businesses. Doing so will support a healthy culture that employees, prospects, and partners alike are proud to be a part of.
Does your business need help communicating and complying with the PWFA and/or other employer mandates? Request a Free Consultation from a vcfo HR expert who can put their proven expertise to work for you. We have partnered with more than 5,000 businesses in our 27 years and would love to share our expertise and experience with you.