On May 14, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“PWFA”) in a 315-101 vote, moving the bill to the Senate for consideration. If passed, private sector employers with 15 or more employees and public sector employers will be required to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers (i.e., employees and job applicants with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions). However, employers are not required to make an accommodation if it imposes an undue hardship on the employer’s business.
The PWFA makes it illegal to deny pregnant workers employment opportunities, retaliate against pregnant workers for requesting reasonable accommodations, and to force pregnant workers to take paid or unpaid leave if another reasonable accommodation is available. Private sector employees who are denied a reasonable accommodation under the PWFA will have the same rights and remedies as those established under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These include lost pay, compensatory damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees. Public sector employees have similar relief available under the Congressional Accountability Act, Title V of the United States Code, and the Government Employee Rights Act of 1991.
Sound familiar? It should! Since 2017, Connecticut law has required that employers with three or more employees provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions. Massachusetts and New York also have laws protecting pregnant workers, as does New York City. Accordingly, it is unlikely that this new federal legislation will impact the process employers in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York already follow with respect to accommodating pregnant workers. Employers in these states should continue to engage in the interactive process with employees who need accommodations due to pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions, in accordance with applicable state law. If the PWFA passes the Senate and is signed into law, we will post an update about any differences employers should be aware of when navigating the protections provided by federal versus state law.