New Laws Provide Pregnant and Nursing Mothers Additional Employment Protections

We all have one and now it will be against the law to not treat our mothers right!

Abraham Lincoln reportedly said, “All that I am, or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” On December 23, 2022,  President Biden signed into law two new acts giving more employment protections to pregnant and nursing mothers. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) and PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act are bipartisan acts that were signed into law as part of an omnibus spending bill.

The PWFA now entitles pregnant workers to additional employment considerations and even ADA-like accommodations. This law expands the rights of pregnant women in hiring and continued employment. Now that this is law, the EEOC has two years to draft regulations and guidance to assist employers and employees in understanding their respective rights and obligations.

What does this mean? The PWFA requires employers to make the same sorts of accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions that the ADA requires employers to make for employees with traditional disabilities. From application through employment, pregnant women will, in effect, be elevated to a protected status where employers will have to be careful to accommodate their needs. It is anticipated the Act will result in accommodations such as letting pregnant women have extra breaks, enhanced job protection, and the ability to transfer to other positions based on physical need and doctors’ order.

The intent of the Act is to ensure that pregnant women can safely continue to work and support their families. The Act strives to erase stereotypes that women are too fragile to work while pregnant. Accommodations might include modifying a “no-food-or-drink” policy for a pregnant employee who needs to eat/stay hydrated. It could be as simple as temporarily giving a worker who was required to stand a chair to sit on while performing job duties. A new twist is that the Act recommends temporarily transferring a woman to another job or just transferring her heavy-lifting duties to another employee. The PWFA envisions an interactive accommodation process, but because pregnancy is relatively short termed (unless you are the one who is pregnant!) employers need to be prepared to meet employee needs and allow them to continue working during their pregnancy. Employers should be proactive and start thinking now of potential modifications to jobs should an employee become pregnant; time will be of the essence to ensure the letter and the spirit of the act are fulfilled.

PUMP will require employers to provide women with a designated private lactation space. This is only required once an employee needs to pump milk. Be sure the lactation area is not also a bathroom, is shielded from view, and is free from intrusion from co-workers and the public. Again, be proactive and plan now for your future lactation space.

Lactation breaks will be protected for at least one year after a woman gives birth. Employers should not be surprised that while some women may only need to pump once a day, others may have to pump multiple times per day. And as mother nature is wont to be, it will not be the same every day even for the same woman.

Employers are urged to draft policies addressing these Acts. Foster an attitude of positivity for these soon-to-be and/or nursing mothers to prevent co-worker backlash. And since we don’t yet know how this is all going to work out, any decisions that may negatively affect pregnant or nursing women should be made in conjunction with advice from your employment counsel.

Remember, “A mother is she who can take the place of all others but whose place no one else can take.” Cardinal Mermillod

If you have questions concerning employment protections related to pregnant and nursing mothers, please contact Madalene A.B. Witterholt or another member of the firm’s Labor & Employment Practice Group.

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Associated People:

Madalene A.B. Witterholt

Practice Area:

Labor & Employment