Massachusetts is once again at the forefront of employee protections, as Governor Baker signed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act into law on July 27, 2017. The law will go into effect on April 1, 2018, but employees and employers should begin to familiarize themselves with this important change in the law.
Prior to the PWFA, federal law protected a pregnancy that involved a disability, under the Americans with Disabilities Act. For example, a high-risk pregnancy that involved complications and the need for bedrest could trigger the requirement for an employer to give a reasonable accommodation to its pregnant employee. But pregnancy is not considered a disability under the ADA, meaning that a woman with a typical pregnancy would not be entitled to the protections of the ADA.
Enter the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The PWFA creates a new category or “protected class” under the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act, which is Massachusetts’ workplace discrimination statute. Now, Massachusetts employers will be prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against employees based on pregnancy, or a condition related to pregnancy such as breastfeeding or the need to express milk. And employers will also need to provide reasonable accommodations to new or expectant mothers in the workplace. In short, the PWFA applies disability standards to pregnancy.
Reasonable accommodations under the PWFA could include any of the following: more frequent or longer paid or unpaid breaks; time off to recover from childbirth with or without pay; acquisition or modification of equipment or seating; temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position; job restructuring; light duty; private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk; assistance with manual labor; or modified work schedules.
This is a big deal for employees and employers alike. Employees should be mindful of these newly conferred rights and should not hesitate to request an accommodation if needed. Such a request would trigger the “interactive process” with the employer to evaluate what type of accommodation would be reasonable and not cause undue hardship to the employer.
Employers should consider amending their Employee Handbooks to change their policies regarding: discrimination and harassment; meals and breaks; and requests for leave and for reasonable accommodations. Employers should also be aware that they must ensure that new mothers have access to private non-bathroom spaces for nursing or expressing breastmilk.
To schedule a consultation with one of our employment lawyers, please call Levine-Piro Law, P.C. at (978) 637-2048.