Q&A: Tips on Complying With the New Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
By Terri Dougherty
The Pregnant Workersí Fairness Act takes effect on June 27 and requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. J. J. Keller Editor Terri Dougherty spoke with Jocelyn Samuels, vice chair of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), about the act and how employers can comply.
J. J. Keller: It seems like the Pregnant Workersí Fairness Act has been discussed for years.† On December 29, 2022, it was signed into law as part of an omnibus spending package. Were you surprised?
Jocelyn Samuels: It has always been a bipartisan initiative. It is quite remarkable the level of support across constituencies.†
I actually am not surprised that it has become the law. It is unfortunate that there are not more bipartisan legislative vehicles.
J. J. Keller: Why do you think people can come together around this issue?
Samuels: Itís not good for anybody, employers or employees, if employees have to leave the workplace because of pregnancy or childbirth or related medical conditions.
Itís obviously not good for the employee who needs to earn a paycheck, but itís not good for employers either, who then have to deal with replacing employees and turnover and the costs of training people.
Support for family responsibilities is something that people across the ideological spectrum can come together on.
Given the upsides of enabling people to stay on the job, I think employers recognize that this was in their own interest. Many of these accommodations are so minimal: Carrying a water bottle, being able to take bathroom breaks, being able to sit on a stool if you are a cashier who normally stands, being able to get a uniform that is big enough to accommodate a pregnancy.
These are virtually costless, routine things that should be quite straightforward. I just think this is a win-win across the board.
J. J. Keller: What should employers do to comply with the act?
Samuels: They should look at their existing procedures under the ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] and make plans to expand those to cover pregnancy.
I do think itís important for employers to look at their processes, to train their HR people and anybody else in their workforces who is involved in considering accommodations, their supervisors, to recognize that pregnancy-related accommodations are now going to be required.
They should think about what their responses should be for some of these really straightforward things. They should be in a position to say to their managers, if there is an employee who wants a water bottle, give it to them.
[In addition,] we will be issuing a new poster. It will be a replacement poster [for the Know Your Rights: Workplace Discrimination is Illegal poster]. We are going to make clear that employers are required to give pregnancy-related accommodations up to the level of undue hardship.
J. J. Keller: Could an employer go too far by asking, do you want a bottle of water? Do you want a chair?
Samuels: As far as what they [employers] can ask, we are going to be doing our best to inform employees so they know they have the right to ask.
Employers should be aware that employees donít have to use magic words. An employee doesnít have to walk into HR and say, ďI need a reasonable accommodation for my pregnancy.Ē
They can say, ďIím pregnant and I feel sick in the morning,Ē and that can be the beginning of the conversation.
Employers should be familiar with this from the ADA context where they engage in these dialogues. Weíre drafting regulations on this. My guess is there will be more guidance there about these requirements.
In general, itís my view that if an employee is obviously pregnant and seems to be having difficulties, an employer can say, is there anything I can do to make your job easier?
But also make it known to your employees that they should come to whoever the person is to request modifications. They can just say, if there are changes in your work that you think you need because you are pregnant or you had a miscarriage or you are going out on childbirth leave, please come to us and let us know.
Creating that kind of receptivity will go a long way toward making employees feel like they can come forward.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.