EEOC Publishes Proposed Rules for New Pregnancy Discrimination Law

In late 2022, Congress passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) as part of the budget bill. The PWFA expands federal protections for employees who are pregnant or have recently given birth. While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars employers from discriminating against employees and job seekers based on pregnancy or childbirth, it does not require them to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers and new parents. Many New Jersey employment laws, including the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), require reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and childbirth. The PWFA adds this requirement to federal law for employers with at least fifteen employees. The law took effect on June 27, 2023. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published a proposed rule implementing the PWFA on August 11. It will accept comments from the public through October 10.

Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, defines discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” as a form of unlawful sex discrimination. This includes refusing to hire someone, firing them, or demoting them because they are pregnant. The NJLAD also prohibits these types of discrimination, and it goes a step further by requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations. For example, a pregnant employee might need extra restroom breaks, as well as a workstation in a location that provides quick access to a restroom. They might need additional water breaks, or temporary light duty assignments because of doctor-ordered lifting restrictions.

The PWFA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for “the known limitations related to [an employee’s] pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition.” It uses the definition of “reasonable accommodation” found in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. The term “known limitation” may include any condition related to pregnancy or childbirth that an employee has communicated to their employer, regardless of whether it meets the definition of a “disability” under the ADA. This does not apply to accommodations that “would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the [employer’s] business.” The employer must demonstrate that a particular accommodation would impose such a burden.

Many of the same enforcement mechanisms provided by Title VII are available under the PWFA. This includes back pay, reinstatement, and injunctive relief, as well as damages for intentional discrimination described in 42 U.S.C. § 1981a.

The EEOC updated its “Know Your Rights” poster as soon as the PWFA took effect in June. The law gives the EEOC one year from that date to issue final rules implementing the law. The proposed rule that it published in August notes that “the PWFA borrows intentionally and extensively from existing civil rights laws.” As a result, employers will be likely to be familiar with many of the new law’s provisions already.

One area where the EEOC’s proposed rule differs from existing rules involves the definition of “undue hardship.” The proposed rule uses the ADA’s definition, but also expands on it by addressing concerns that may be specific to pregnancy or childbirth. These might include additional periods of leave or temporary changes from full- to part-time.

Employers that violate federal or state law might be liable for damages to the employees that they harm. If you believe your employer has violated your rights, an experienced and skilled employment attorney can help you. The Resnick Law Group represents employees and job applicants in New Jersey and New York in a wide range of employment claims. To schedule a confidential consultation to see how we can assist you, please contact us online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997.

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