These Pregnancy Rules Could Upend the Workplace

New regulations offer guidance on morning sickness, doctor appointments, abortion, and more
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Apr 20, 2024 11:30 AM CDT
These Pregnancy Rules Could Upend the Workplace
The emblem of the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is shown on a podium in Vail, Colorado, on Feb. 16, 2016.   (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

Pregnant employees have the right to a wide range of accommodations under new federal regulations for enforcing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act that supporters say could change workplace culture for millions of people. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency in charge of enforcing the law, adopted an expansive view of conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth in its proposed regulations, including a controversial decision to include abortion, fertility treatment, and birth control as medical issues requiring job protections. The rules, adopted on a 3-2 vote along partisan lines, were published Monday and offer extensive guidelines for addressing more routine difficulties of pregnancy, such as morning sickness, back pain, and needing to avoid heavy lifting, per the AP. Labor advocates say the law will be especially transformative for pregnant women in low-wage jobs, who are often denied simple requests like more bathroom breaks. What to know about the law and the EEOC regulations:

  • Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Congress passed the law with bipartisan support in December 2022 following a decadelong campaign by women's rights and labor advocates, who argued that the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act did little to guarantee women would receive the accommodations they might need at work. The law stated only that pregnant workers should be treated the same as other employees, not that they deserved special consideration. To get their requests met, many pregnant workers therefore needed to demonstrate they had physical limitations covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act, often creating insurmountable hurdles.

  • New law: This legislation treats pregnancy and related conditions as themselves deserving of "reasonable accommodations" and places the burden on employers to prove "undue hardships" for denying any requests. The law applies to employers of at least 15 workers. The EEOC estimates it will cover roughly 1.5 million pregnant workers in any given year. The regulations published April 15 are set to go into effect in June.
  • Details: The EEOC's 400-page document encompasses a wide array of conditions and relevant advice for employers. It states that workers are entitled to unpaid time off for situations such as prenatal appointments, fertility treatments, abortion, miscarriage, postpartum depression, and mastitis, an infection that arises from breastfeeding. This includes workers who aren't covered by federal family leave laws and those who haven't been on the job long enough to accrue time off.
  • Details, II: Workers can ask for flexible working arrangements to deal with morning sickness, such as a later start time, clearance to work from home, or permission to carry snacks in workplaces where eating is typically prohibited. If employees can't sit or stand for extended periods due to sciatica, which is common in late pregnancy, they can request a schedule adjustment so their commutes happen during less crowded hours. The regulations also allow workers to be exempted from tasks such as climbing ladders or heavy lifting. If those duties are essential to their jobs, they can still request a temporary dispensation, according to the EEOC.
Much more here. (More pregnancy stories.)

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