Businesses should be aware of two important laws that affect pregnant and nursing employees. The Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act (PWFA) which will go into effect on June 27, 2023, and the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers (PUMP) Act which is already in effect. Both laws aim to provide important protections for pregnant and nursing employees.
Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act (PWFA)
The PWFA provides protections to employees and applicants who have known limitations because of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. The protections are in addition to those already offered by Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and state laws including Washington’s Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) and the Healthy Starts Act.
Under the PWFA, employers (including private and public sector employers, employment agencies, labor organizations, and others) with at least 15 employees must provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees and applicants unless doing so would pose an undue hardship to the employer. Reasonable accommodations may include such things as more frequent breaks (to use the restroom, eat, rest, etc.), the ability to sit while working, ability to drink water while working, flexible hours, relief from strenuous activities or exposure to unsafe compounds, closer parking, and appropriately sized uniforms and safety equipment, among others.
The PWFA also requires employers to engage in the interactive process with the employee to determine what accommodations can be provided. According to the Act, employers may not require employees to accept an accommodation without prior discussion between the employer and employee. Additionally, employers are prohibited from requiring leave if another accommodation can be provided which would allow the employee to continue working.
The PWFA attempts to address gaps in Title VII and the ADA related to employees temporarily limited by pregnancy, Washington employers, however, have largely already been required to provide accommodation to affected employees under state law. Organizations with employees in Idaho and Montana should pay particular attention to these new obligations, though.
More information about the PWFA can be found on the EEOC’s website: What You Should Know About the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act | U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (eeoc.gov) and information regarding Washington requirements can be found at: RCW 43.10.005: Workplace pregnancy accommodations—Unfair practices—Definitions. (wa.gov) and Pregnancy Accommodations (wa.gov).
Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP)
The PUMP Act amends the FLSA and, among other provisions, extends rights related to expressing breast milk at work to include not only non-exempt employees covered by the FLSA, but also exempt employees and others previous exempt from the law. The PUMP Act, applies to employers with 50 or more employees. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to the requirements of the PUMP Act if doing so would impose an undue burden. Pursuant to the Act, employers are required to provide reasonable breaktimes for an employee to express breast milk each time the employee has a need to do so. The PUMP Act only requires paid breaks if the employee is not completely relieved from duty for the entire break. In addition to providing breaks, the employer is required to provide a private location, other than a bathroom, for nursing mothers to express breast milk. These requirements continue for up to one year following the birth of the child. Notably, Washington law requires employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for up to two years.
Washington employers are likely already in compliance with the requirements of the PUMP Act as a result of Washington’s pregnancy laws which meet or exceed federal protections. Nevertheless, employers are encouraged to review their policies and procedures to ensure they are in compliance with state and federal laws. As the PUMP Act imposes new requirements on private employers in Idaho and Montana, employers in those states should update their policies to reflect these changes to the law.
Employers can find more information about the PUMP Act on the DOL’s website: Fact Sheet #73: Break Time for Nursing Mothers under the FLSA | U.S. Department of Labor (dol.gov) and FLSA Protections to Pump at Work | U.S. Department of Labor (dol.gov) and more information about state requirements at: RCW 43.10.005: Workplace pregnancy accommodations—Unfair practices—Definitions. (wa.gov) and Pregnancy Accommodations (wa.gov).
Providing reasonable accommodations to pregnant and nursing employees is not only required by law but helps businesses provide a safe and inclusive workplace for all employees. If you have questions about your policies or need assistance updating your policies, please call Member Care at 509.777.2727.