What is the New Rule Regarding the Federal Pregnancy Workers Act?

June 3, 2024

In our April 26, 2023, article, we informed readers of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act’s (PWFA) implementation and its extension to protect employees with known limitations relating to pregnancy, childbirth, or other medical conditions. On April 19, 2024, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released its final rule for the PWFA, which expands upon the definitions of certain terms, as well as the protections offered under the PWFA. The new rule will take effect on June 18, 2024.

Broadened Definitions

The final rule defines a “known limitation” as a physical or mental condition related to pregnancy, childbirth, or other medical conditions that the employee has made known to the employer. The condition must be communicated to the employer by the employee or an acceptable agent of the employee.

The definition of “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” has also expanded to include current pregnancies, past pregnancies, or potential pregnancies. Issues related to fertility treatment, miscarriages, post-partum depression, lactation, and birth control are also among the medical conditions protected by the new rule. Conditions that are not exclusive to pregnancy, such as headaches, high blood pressure, or carpal tunnel syndrome, are covered under the PWFA if the condition is related to or exacerbated by pregnancy or childbirth.

Stepping Away From the ADA

The new rule departs from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in multiple ways. First, the known limitations communicated to the employer do not have to meet the definition of a disability under the ADA. Instead, an employee is eligible for accommodation under the PWFA if their limitation is modest, episodic, or creates a problem with maintaining the health of their pregnancy.

Second, to accommodate an employee with a limitation, the PWFA may require an employer to temporarily suspend an essential function of that employee’s job, with or without reassignment to someone else. Only a “qualified employee” may be accommodated under the PWFA.  A qualified employee is someone who temporarily cannot perform the essential functions of the job but will be able to “in the near future.” An accommodation could be giving the employee alternative work to perform, assigning the employee to a different role, or offering them lighter duty work.

Requesting Documentation

The final rule limits the employer’s ability to request supporting documentation of a condition to situations where it is reasonable to do so. It is not considered reasonable to ask for documentation when the employee is “obviously” pregnant or when the employee has already provided sufficient documentation in the past. Reasonable documentation is that which confirms the condition of the employee arose from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The documentation may also describe the necessary adjustments required to accommodate the employee’s condition.

Takeaway

With the expansion of the protected medical conditions under the PWFA and its departure from certain aspects of the ADA, employers are encouraged to review their accommodation protocols and policies pertaining to pregnancy and non-pregnancy related conditions. Educating managers and personnel who handle pregnancy-related accommodations is crucial to ensure the best practices are maintained. Since certain accommodations require a case-by-case analysis, employers can reach out to Halpern & Scrom to assess whether an accommodation is appropriate.

 

 

 

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