What Is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

Everything you need to know about the proposed new bill -- which would go one step further than the existing Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

pregnant businesswoman sitting in office chair Blend Images/Veer

Unlike the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is not a federal law. Rather, it is a bill that was introduced to the United States Senate on May 14, 2014, by Senator Robert Casey of Pennsylvania (along with 25 cosponsors).

According to Congress.gov, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is "a bill to eliminate discrimination and promote women's health and economic security by ensuring reasonable workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to perform the functions of a job are limited by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition."

What does that mean, exactly? The bill goes one step further than the existing Pregnancy Discrimination Act, explains employment law attorney Sandy Girifalco, a partner at Stradley Ronon Attorneys at Law in Philadelphia.

Where the PDA requires employers only to treat pregnant women the same way they treat any other employee, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will require that employers make reasonable accommodations in the workplace for women who have pregnancy-related needs so that they can continue working during pregnancy. Examples of these accommodations, Girifalco says, might be things like additional restroom breaks or being allowed to carry a water bottle while on the job.

"Most of these accommodations may seem to be no big deal, particularly for those of us who work in offices, but they can be for some employers," Girifalco says. "Many employees are not permitted to eat or drink on the job because they're in a public area or for safety reasons. Others must take breaks at regularly scheduled times, not necessarily when they want to." Manufacturing jobs are a prime example, she says. "Do you have to stop the entire line when one employee needs a snack to help her morning sickness, since she can't have food near the line because crumbs can clog up the machinery? These can be tough issues and will be among those employers will be calling their lawyers about."

While the bill seems to have died, Girifalco notes that some states, such as New Jersey, and even cities, including New York and Philadelphia, have already moved to require these accommodations. Even so, this movement is still in its infancy and these types of protections for pregnant women are still not law in most places. A listing of which states have adopted Reasonable Accommodation laws, along with descriptions of those regulations, can be found here or by reaching out to the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission or your state's Department of Labor.

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