What HR Needs to Know About the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act 

May 4, 2023
Pregnant woman holding baby bump

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a new US federal law that will make access to reasonable accommodations more accessible to pregnant and postpartum workers.

Going into effect on June 27th, 2023, the law requires that any public or private sector employers 15 or more employees provide reasonable accommodations to workers with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

Those managing accommodations will need to consider how PWFA might affect their processes and increase the number of accommodation requests they receive.

What is changing?

Prior to the PWFA, under federal laws, employers were only required to provide accommodations for pregnant employees if their pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition resulted in a disability. Now, all pregnant and postpartum workers are qualified if:

  • Their inability to perform an essential function is for a temporary period.
  • The essential function could be performed in the near future.
  • The inability to perform the essential function can be reasonably accommodated.

The PWFA also prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against employees and job applicants based on their need for a reasonable accommodation. While the Pregnancy Discrimination Act does currently protect pregnant employees from discrimination, it does not impose accommodation requirements that can assist them in performing their job duties.

Ultimately, the PWFA places more responsibility on employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant and postpartum employees. This ensures that pregnant employees receive the same level of protection and support as other employees who have temporary medical conditions.

What does this all mean for employers?

Under the PWFA, it is considered illegal for an employer to fail to provide a reasonable accommodation for the qualified employee if it does not impose an undue hardship for the employer.

In addition, employers are prohibited from requiring qualified employees “to take paid or unpaid leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided.” In effect, employers may only require an employee to take leave as a last resort if there are no other reasonable accommodations that can be provided absent undue hardship.

This means that employers may need to go through the interactive process with each pregnant employee to find them a reasonable accommodation.

According to AbsenceSoft’s 2023 Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Survey, half of the respondents reported that annually, 11-40% of their employees are on maternity leave. Furthermore, 26% stated that over 21% of their workforce goes on maternity leave. These statistics demonstrate that most employers may need to provide accommodations under the PWFA for at least 11% of their employees annually.

How can HR teams prepare for these changes?

The clock is ticking! With the arrival of PWFA quickly approaching on June 27th, it’s crucial to get your team prepared for the expected surge in accommodation requests.

Take the time to examine your policies

To ensure that you’re ready, take some time to examine your company’s policies. If you’re an employee with over 15 employees, it is essential that your policies align with the new PWFA regulations. Carefully review your policies and make any necessary updates to ensure that they are up-to-date and in compliance with the new regulations.

Get your team members are up to speed

It’s also important to make sure that your team members are up to speed on the changes brought about by the PWFA. Provide comprehensive training to HR and management personnel involved in receiving accommodation requests. This will equip them with the information they need to guide employees to the appropriate resources.

Have an effective interactive process in place

As the number of accommodation requests is expected to increase after the PWFA takes effect, it’s essential to have an effective interactive process in place. Accommodation management software like AbsenceSoft can help to improve your interactive process. By keeping communication in one place, the AbsenceSoft system can serve as your source of truth for all accommodation requests. A centralized, standardized, automated process can help to ensure that all ADA outcomes are as fair and consistent as possible.

Final Thoughts

The PWFA is a step in the right direction when it comes to expanding our federal worker’s rights to accommodations and pregnancy-related needs. Employers need to be prepared to accommodate these workers and perform a straightforward interactive and accommodation process. Accommodation management software like AbsenceSoft can assist in guiding your ADA managers through the interactive process and ensure that they don’t miss a step. If you would like to learn more about how AbsenceSoft can help your accommodations process, our ADA experts would be happy to help.