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What is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

What is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act on May 14, 2021. If signed into law, the proposed legislation would prohibit discriminating employment practices toward employees who are pregnant. Read on to find out what employers should know about the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.


What is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which passed in the U.S. House of Representatives on May 14, 2021, is proposed legislation that “prohibits employment practices that discriminate against making reasonable accommodations for qualified employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” 

If signed into law, this legislation would require employers to provide reasonable workplace accommodations for pregnant employees, unless it presents an undue hardship. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) enforces a similar measure for workers with disabilities. A few examples of reasonable workplace accommodations include the following:

  • Sitting areas for a pregnant worker where employees might otherwise be standing for long periods of time
  • Pregnant employee parking spaces close to the office entrance, as suggested by LeanIn’s Sheryl Sandberg
  • Limited heavy lifting

The proposed bill would clarify both employers’ obligations and pregnant employee rights, according to SHRM.


What are the Current Protections for Pregnant Workers?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which is an amendment of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, protects pregnant workers from discrimination related to employment, including hiring, pay, promotions, layoff, firing, benefits, and conditions of employment.

SHRM points out that there is currently no right to workplace accommodations for pregnant employees under existing legislation. Likewise, reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) apply only to workers with disabilities, including disabilities related to pregnancy.

What Else Should Employers Consider?

Equally important, employers should be prepared to support expecting employees after the baby is born. Paid family leave (sometimes called parental leave) is a type of employee leave where an extended period of absence is granted to employees by employers—typically for the birth of a child or illness—where wages are either fully or partially paid.

When combined with other benefits, it can serve as a significant indicator of an organization’s company culture. Of the employers who do offer paid leave, the average length of maternity leave was a little over 8 weeks, and about 4 weeks for paternity leave.

There is no federal legislation requiring employers to offer partial or fully financially reimbursed family leave in the United States.

However, several states do offer these benefits for employees, and the SHRM survey found that more states are requiring paid leave in 2020 than in 2019. Most companies also expect to keep their parental leave benefits the same or increase the offering over the next two years. 

On the other hand, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for certain employees. While this is helpful legislation for many parents, mothers and fathers often return to the workforce before the 12-week period expires due to lack of pay. 

Employers looking to make changes to or update their paid parental leave policy can reference this communications template.

2021 Company Culture Trends Blog CTA

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