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July 27, 2017

Legal Update
Gwen Nolan King, Kate R. Cook

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act becomes law

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Today, July 27, 2017, Governor Baker signed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“PWFA”), which will go into effect on April 1, 2018.   The PWFA supplements Massachusetts employment discrimination law, Chapter 151B, to provide certain protections for pregnant workers and workers with pregnancy-related conditions at employers with six or more employees.

Below are the four major things employers need to know about the new law:

  1. Duty to Provide Reasonable Accommodations
    Under the PWFA, unless an employer can demonstrate undue hardship, an employer must provide reasonable accommodation for an employee’s pregnancy and related conditions, including the need to express breast milk.  The PWFA identifies such reasonable accommodations as including: (i) more frequent or longer breaks; (ii) time off to attend to a pregnancy complication or recover from childbirth; (iii) acquisition or modification of seating/equipment; (iv) temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position; (v) job restructuring; (vi) light duty; (vii) a private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk; (viii) assistance with manual labor; or (ix) a modified work schedule.
  2. Prohibited Practices
    The PWFA prohibits employers from taking adverse actions against a pregnant employee or an employee with a pregnancy-related condition who requests a reasonable accommodation and from denying an employment opportunity on the basis of the need for a reasonable accommodation.  Employers are also prohibited from requiring an employee affected by pregnancy to accept an accommodation that is not necessary for the employee to perform the essential functions of the job.  In addition, the PWFA precludes employers from requiring an employee to take a leave of absence if another reasonable accommodation may be provided without undue hardship.  Nor can employers knowingly refuse to hire a person because of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition if the person is capable of performing the essential functions of the job with a reasonable accommodation.
  3. Documentation Supporting Accommodation Requests 
    Upon request for an accommodation, an employer is required to engage in an interactive process with the employee or prospective employee to determine an effective reasonable accommodation that will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job.  In doing so, the employer may require documentation about the need for a reasonable accommodation from an appropriate healthcare professional unless the requested accommodation is for: (i) more frequent restroom, food and water breaks; (ii) seating; (iii) limits on lifting over 20 lbs; or (iv) a private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk.
  4. Ensuring Compliance
    The PWFA requires employers to provide all employees with written notice of their rights under the PWFA in an employee handbook, pamphlet or by other means.  Therefore, employers should update their antidiscrimination policies and provide their supervisors and managerial staff with training regarding employees’ rights under the PWFA.

For further insight into the PWFA and guidance on how to proceed accordingly, contact Kate Cook or Gwen Nolan King.

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