New Laws Supporting Pregnant and Nursing Employees

Historically, public policies and regulations in the United States have not supported pregnant women or women who have recently given birth. With the New Laws Supporting Pregnant and Nursing Employees, this changed on December 22, 2022, when the 117th Congress, the most racially and ethnically diverse Congressional body in history, comprised of slightly more than 25 percent women and 11 openly LGBTQIA+ members, made more political history, ensuring pregnant employees may continue to generate a salary while still having a healthy and safe pregnancy.

Under the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness (PWFA) and Providing Urgent Maternal Protections Acts, beginning in June 2023, companies will be obligated to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers (PUMP). These bills were passed in the flurry of modifications to the $1.7 trillion omnibus bill at the close of last year, and they represent a significant triumph for pregnant employees and their families.

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Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The goal of the PWFA is to “remove discrimination and enhance women’s health and economic security by providing appropriate workplace accommodations for workers whose capacity to fulfill job duties is reduced by pregnancy, delivery, or a related medical condition.” The term “reasonable accommodations” was adopted directly from its use in the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, although for pregnant employees and on a temporary basis.

Temporary light duty or comparable arrangements, such as more restroom breaks or the ability to sit, are examples of reasonable accommodations. The PWFA mandates employers with 15 or more employees to accommodate job applicants and employees with pregnancy or childbirth-related conditions. It also forbids companies from discriminating against job applicants or employees who require a pregnancy-related accommodation.

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Pregnancy Discrimination Act gaps are closed with bipartisan support for pregnant employees.

This is the first time since 1978 when the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was enacted, that the urgently required new policy has passed both the House and the Senate. The PDA made it illegal for a pregnant worker to be terminated or treated differently but left many loopholes for employers to deny pregnant workers reasonable accommodations. In the subsequent decades, waves of discrimination lawsuits have been filed within a patchwork of state-specific safeguards and disparate judicial decisions. Frequently, by the time these workers had their day in court, they were no longer pregnant and were forced to quit their jobs, sacrificing their income and economic security, or labor in hazardous conditions.

Michelle McGrain, Director of Congressional Affairs and Economic Justice for the National Partnership for Women and Families, discusses the PWFA with Parents. “If an employer provides similar concessions to individuals for non-pregnancy-related reasons, such as if you’ve undergone surgery and require an accommodation, then it must also provide these accommodations to pregnant workers.” McGrain explains that the PWFA is merely a simple repair for the gaps left by the PDA, as businesses now have a proactive responsibility to give these accommodations, but are not required to do so if doing so would be detrimental to their business.

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Since 2011, the PWFA has been introduced in every Congress, and the House passed it in May 2021. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee sat on it in silence for months. It was enacted in December following the addition of religious exemption language, which will affect those who work for religious employers.

Providing Urgent Maternal Protections Act

The PUMP act for nursing employees was established to fill the inadequacies in the 2010 Break Time Law so that all employees with a need to express breast milk can access the full benefits of the law. This extends safeguards to salaried and other categories of employees, clarifies whether pumping time is paid or unpaid, and protects employees from reducing their pay.

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With each new election cycle, the number of representatives who were previously denied voice and access to our federal government and policymaking continues to grow. Taking into account this significant victory for pregnant employees, parents, and families, we can directly observe the benefits of a more diverse Congress. More supportive policies for all parents and families. Perhaps we can now consider the next steps in bridging the gap between family values and national legislation: paid sick days for pregnant employees and paid parental leave.

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