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New law expands employment protections for pregnant workers

Pregnant workers in Idaho and around the country received more protection against employment discrimination on June 27 when the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act went into effect. The legislation, which was part of an omnibus spending bill, was passed with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by President Joe Biden in December 2022. The PWFA requires employers to make the same kind of reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires them to make for disabled workers.

Reasonable accommodations

The PWFA provides pregnant workers with an explicit and affirmative right to receive reasonable workplace accommodations both while they are pregnant and shortly after their babies are born. Reasonable accommodations may include being:

  • Assigned tasks that are less physically demanding
  • Temporarily transferred to more suitable duties or teams
  • Provided with a seat or stool to sit on
  • Allowed to take more frequent bathroom breaks
  • Allowed to eat or drink while on duty

Other federal laws protecting pregnant workers

Pregnant workers are also protected by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act. The PDA, which was passed in 1978, expanded Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to prohibit pregnancy discrimination, and the 2023 PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act requires employers to provide workers who have recently had children with lactation breaks and a place to take them. The PWFA also addresses lactation needs.

Robust workplace protections

The workplace protections enjoyed by pregnant workers are rooted in existing employment laws. The reasonable accommodations required by the PWFA are similar to the accommodations that employers have been expected to make for disabled workers since 1990, and the discrimination protection provided by the PDA expands the scope of a landmark federal law that was passed in 1964.