EEOC Clarifies Employer Responsibilities for Pregnant Workers
EEOC Clarifies Employer Responsibilities for Pregnant Workers

On April 15, 2024, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released the final rule to implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), setting out key clarifying information that will provide the ability for employers to understand their duties under the law which is aimed at enabling pregnant workers to work and maintain a healthy pregnancy. The PWFA requires most employers with 15 or more employees to provide “reasonable accommodations,” or changes at work, for a worker’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation will cause the employer an undue hardship.

The PWFA increases the existing protections against pregnancy discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and options for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The final rule will be published in the Federal Register on April 19, 2024. The final rule becomes effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, which will be June 18, 2024.

The EEOC reports that it received and reviewed over 100,000 public comments to the proposed PWFA that came into effect last June. The final rule clarifies to employers and workers important aspects of 1) who is covered, 2) the types of limitations and medical conditions covered, 3) how individuals can request reasonable accommodations, and 4) provides numerous situation-specific examples.

The EEOC has explained that for employers, the final rule will encourage employees to communicate early and often their status and needs during pregnancy, and to identify and resolve issues in a timely manner.  For workers, the final rule provides better designation of the options for workers to seek accommodations that promote the health and safety of the mother and child during the pregnancy.

Highlights from the final regulation include:

  1. Several situation-specific examples of reasonable accommodations such as additional breaks to drink water, eat, or use the restroom; a stool to sit on while working; time off for health care appointments; temporary reassignment; temporary suspension of certain job duties; telework; or time off to recover from childbirth or a miscarriage, among others.
  2. Definition and guidance regarding limitations and medical conditions for which employees or applicants may seek reasonable accommodation, including miscarriage or still birth; migraines; lactation; and pregnancy-related conditions that are episodic, such as morning sickness. This guidance is based on Congress’s PWFA statutory language, the EEOC’s longstanding definition of “pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and court decisions interpreting the term “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions from Title VII.
  3. Guidance encouraging early and frequent communication between employers and workers to raise and resolve requests for reasonable accommodation in a timely manner.
  4. Clarification that an employer is not required to seek supporting documentation when an employee asks for a reasonable accommodation and should only do so when it is reasonable under the circumstances.
  5. Explanation of when an accommodation would impose an undue hardship on an employer and its business.
  6. Information on how employers may assert defenses or exemptions, including those based on religion, as early as possible in charge processing.

More information about the PWFA and the EEOC’s final rule, including resources for employers and workers, is available on the EEOC’s webpage under the title: “What You Should Know about the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.” The Employment Team at Porter Hedges LLP are available to assist with any questions or issues regarding this or any employment accommodation issue.

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