If you don’t know about the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, it’s time to learn. This under the radar legislation has the potential to transform working conditions for pregnant women in the United States. This bipartisan law requires covered employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to a worker’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation will cause the employer an “undue hardship.”
As of June 27th, new regulations are in place to require that employers provide accommodations for pregnancy-related medical conditions, everything from pregnancy to childbirth to postpartum recovery. It undoes a previous requirement that said employees must prove they should be accommodated. Instead, the onus will now be on employers to work in good faith with workers to provide accommodations.
A Long History of Advocacy
Advocates have been working to expand protections for pregnant workers since 2011, according to PBS News Hour. They report that Dina Bakst, the cofounder and co-president of A Better Balance: The Work & Family Legal Center, realized pregnant workers who were turning to the organization for help were not sufficiently covered under existing law. This gap in protection was an issue of racial equity — many were women of color working in low-paying jobs.
The ACLU notes that most Americans do not realize that pregnant workers often face such hardships. Many of us assume that simple accommodations — a water bottle, a stool or break time would be required to assure pregnant workers could keep working safely. Until the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, this was not the case.
A Huge Step Forward
Vox.com reports that, “The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act represents the first major advance in pregnant workers’ rights in decades. It expands on existing legislation, like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act, to include more people and broader situations. It explicitly gives people experiencing limitations from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions rights to reasonable accommodations without them having to have a disability or to prove that others would be given the same exemptions. In other words, it gives women the ability to ask for what they need to continue working during and after pregnancy.”
How to take advantage of your new rights
Vox recommends that women start by telling their employers, preferably in writing, their situation and ask for an accommodation that will make it easier to work while pregnant or postpartum.
A Better Balance runs a free legal hotline that can help people discuss their specific cases and provides a template for how to ask your boss for an accommodation. Delvaux also has a template you can use.
Women should also talk with their doctors about what solutions can best accommodate their health at work. A doctor’s note will go a long way in bulwarking your case.