What is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and what happens if it becomes law?
Last week, the House of Representatives passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) (H.R. 2694), which could have major implications for companies around the country. If enacted, the PWFA would require most employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees along the lines of what is required for disabled employees under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
According to the House Committee on Education and Labor’s research, 62% of workers have witnessed pregnancy discrimination on the job, which can take the form of “losing a job, being denied reasonable accommodation, or not being hired in the first place.” This discrimination can be particularly damaging to Black and Latina employees, “who are overrepresented in low-wage, physically demanding jobs,” a harsh reality that is intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic given that pregnant women “who contract the virus are more likely than non-pregnant women to be hospitalized.”
While federal laws, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the American with Disabilities Act, protect pregnant employees against certain forms of discrimination, the House passed the PWFA because “there is currently no federal law that explicitly and affirmatively guarantees all pregnant workers the right to a reasonable accommodation so they can continue working without jeopardizing their pregnancy.”
If it becomes law, the PWFA will provide that:
- Private sector employers with more than 15 employees, as well as public sector employers, must make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers and job applicants so long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship on the employer;
- Pregnant employees cannot be retaliated against for requesting a reasonable accommodation and cannot be denied employment opportunities, or be required to take leave if another reasonable accommodation is available; and
- the remedies available would include lost pay, compensatory damages, and attorneys’ fees
Hundreds of organizations, including the business community, civil rights groups, and employment/labor advocacy organizations have endorsed the PWFA. Next stop is the Senate, where the bill has been referred to the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. The intersection between pregnancy and disability discrimination, including the reasonable accommodations for employees that may be available, will continue to be a key employment law area to watch.