The need to retain talent remains a top priority for many organizations to stay competitive. Companies today are realizing the importance of supporting their employees through all stages of life, including pregnancy and postpartum.
In our 2023 Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Survey, we found that up to 11-40% of the workforce take maternity leave every year. This is a significant percentage of the workforce, especially if you are a large employer! With so many potentially affected employees, it’s important to provide reasonable accommodations that assist them during pregnancy and the months following birth.
What laws are in place to accommodate pregnant and postpartum workers?
The PWFA (Pregnant Workers Fairness Act) went into effect on June 27th, 2023, this act bridges the gap between the ADA and Title VII. PWFA classifies every pregnancy as a disability, meaning every pregnant employee will be able to request a reasonable accommodation under the ADA. Now that PWFA is in effect, HR teams may be dealing with many more requests, but the requests may be for conditions they are not familiar with, such as morning sickness, post-partum depression, and anemia.
In addition, the PUMP Act which went into effect on April 28th of 2023, expands existing employer obligations under the Fair Labor Standards to provide an employee with reasonable break time to express breast milk for the employee’s nursing child of one year after the child’s birth.
How can organizations accommodate pregnant and postpartum employees?
During pregnancy and postpartum, women may experience physical or mental conditions that can limit their ability to perform certain tasks. Each pregnancy will produce different challenges, so it’s important to use a personalized approach when identifying each employee’s limitations.
Some physical limitations include:
- Temperature sensitivity
Once you have identified the employee’s specific challenges, you can find an accommodation that best suits their needs. Keep in mind that it can be easy and relatively inexpensive to provide accommodations for most pregnant and postpartum employees.
We have matched some reasonable accommodations that may work for physical limitations:
- Accessible baby changing stations
- Low task chair
- Battery powered lift chairs
- Anti-fatigue matting
- Grab bars
- Assist lift cushions
- Remote work
- Workstation heaters
- Modified break schedules
Of course, this is not an extensive list but a good place to start. To find an extensive list of reasonable accommodations as well as limitations visit The Job Accommodations Network.
For those needing accommodations for breastfeeding, that will now be covered in the PUMP act which requires employers to provide a place to express milk shielded from view and intrusion from coworkers or the public and will cover all mothers up to one year after the birth of a child.
In addition, leave can be considered a reasonable accommodation for some pregnancy-related conditions. Because pregnancy requires regular visits to the doctor and other necessary appointments, intermittent leaves can be a great way to support these appointments. A full leave of absence can be considered for some pregnancy-related conditions such as a needed hospital stay. While most employers are prepared to accommodate pregnant workers with job modifications and flexible hours, far fewer are ready to offer leave as an accommodation.
The eight-step interactive process
All of these steps listed above can be fit into the eight step interactive process. The eight-step interactive process is a framework that employers can use to determine reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, and in this case pregnant and postpartum employees. It is a collaborative process that involves both the employer and the employee and requires ongoing communication to ensure the accommodation is effective. Here are all eight steps of the interactive process.
- Recognize the accommodation request: An employer must be aware of the request for accommodation and respond in a timely manner.
- Gather information: The employer should gather information about the employee’s limitations and the specific job tasks and work environment. This may include obtaining medical documentation or consulting with their healthcare provider.
- Search for and explore options: The employer must start to look for options that pertain to the employee’s limitations.
- Ask employee to suggest and accommodation: The employer and employee should work together to identify possible accommodations that could enable the employee to perform essential job functions.
- Ask employees health care provider for suggestion: The employer and the healthcare provider can also work together to identify which accommodations would be more effective.
- Choose the best accommodation: After evaluating each option, the employer should choose the accommodation that is most effective and feasible.
- Implement the accommodation: Once the accommodation is chosen, the employer now needs to implement it and ensure that it is working as intended.
- Monitor the accommodation: The employer should regularly monitor the accommodation to ensure that it remains effective and adjust it if necessary.
By following this process, employers can create a more inclusive work environment and enable employees to perform their essential job functions.
How can HR teams improve their interactive process?
50% of the HR professionals we surveyed in the 2023 Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Readiness Survey either had no formal accommodation processes in place or had just a few processes but relied primarily on spreadsheets, email reminders, and disparate apps.
With all these expected incoming accommodations requests, employers need to think about how they can create a better accommodation and interactive process now that PWFA is in effect. AbsenceSoft’s acommodations platform allows HR teams to manage all steps of the interactive process in-house to ensure a cohesive and compliant employee experience.
Here are some other ways that accommodation software can improve your interactive process:
- Employees can request accommodations discretely
Accommodation software gives employees a clear and discrete place to go when they need to request accommodation. AbsenceSoft’s Employee Self-Service (ESS) portal can be embedded into your company’s website so that employees have easy access to requesting an accommodation anytime, anywhere – making your accommodation process simple, straightforward and private.
- Centralize and document the process
Accommodation software provides a system of truth to your accommodation process. Everything is documented in one place, so that you don’t lose track of documentation or conversations that you have with employees. During the interactive process, all communication will be accounted for under one ADA case.
- Ensure equity between cases
With ADA software you can easily track every accommodation request in one dashboard, giving you a clear overview of all requests. This allows you to compare requests to ensure that outcomes are as fair and consistent as possible. In addition, you can generate reports or export audit trails so that you have all the data you need at your fingertips.
Supporting your pregnant and postpartum employees in their time of need creates a happy and healthy workforce all around. Accommodations are a great way to ensure that these employees are getting the support they need and are often not a burden on the employer. Having an effective and efficient interactive process in place ensures that each employee can get the accommodations that work best for them. To learn more about how accommodation software can improve your interactive process, visit the AbsenceSoft website, or chat with one of our ADA experts.