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A new law gives employers a push to accommodate the health care needs of working women during pregnancy and after childbirth.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is now accepting charges of employment discrimination under the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) that went into effect on June 27. The law requires employers to provide reasonable job accommodations for known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related physical or mental health conditions. It does not specify the types of conditions that qualify as limitations.
Under the law, employers cannot compel covered workers to take a leave of absence when a reasonable accommodation is feasible. Conversely, covered employers are not required to provide accommodations that create an undue hardship, such as a change in work practices that would be significantly difficult, disruptive or expensive to execute.
While the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 provide some protections, the PWFA closes a gap. It specifically addresses requests for job accommodations to prevent health complications and allow affected employees to work safely and continue to earn a living.
Under the PDA, pregnant workers are entitled to temporary job modifications only if their employer provides them to others “similar in their ability or inability to work,” which has placed a burden of proof on women. The ADA protects people from discrimination due to a disability. Pregnancy is not a disability under the ADA, although some impairments related to pregnancy may be considered as a protected disability in a discrimination claim.
The PWFA protects employees and job applicants with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Covered employers include private and public sector employers with at least 15 employees, the U.S. Congress, federal agencies, employment agencies and labor organizations.
“For workers and job applicants, the PWFA will help ensure economic security at a critical time in their lives,” said EEOC Chair Charlotte A. Burrows. “The EEOC stands ready to support employers as they carry out the PWFA’s directives and to support workers in receiving the accommodations they are entitled to under the PWFA.”
Examples of reasonable accommodations include:
Reproductive health hazards exist for both men and women in certain workplaces and occupations. The health of the fetus and newborn baby is also a concern. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, pregnant women may need added protections on the job due to:
After childbirth, workers who are breastfeeding may need to consider risk of exposure to substances that can be absorbed in breast milk, such as lead, mercury and other heavy metals, organic solvents and radioactive chemicals used in health care settings. The PUMP Act (Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act) enforced the Department of Labor includes workplace protections for employees who express breast milk at work.
NIOSH encourages women and their employers to collaborate on measures they can take to ensure safe pregnancies and healthy outcomes for babies and their parents. WorkCare’s occupational medicine physicians provide informed recommendations on reproductive exposure risks, protective measures and reasonable accommodations to help women stay healthy, safe on the job. Contact us to learn more.
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