Last Tuesday, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which President Biden signed into law last year, went into effect. This new law will expand “long-overdue protections to ensure that workers experiencing pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions have the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace,” according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Now that the PWFA has gone into effect, the EEOC can begin accepting new charges of pregnancy-related workplace discrimination, which it prohibits.
While not the first law to protect pregnant workers, the PWFA provides more comprehensive protections for pregnant employees than the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which has been in place since 1978. The PDA prevents employers from refusing to hire or firing an employee because they are pregnant, but within the workplace, pregnant employees are still held to the same working standard as employees who are not pregnant. This means that pregnant employees— especially those who are low-income— might not get an adequate amount of breaks while at work or time off work to go to pregnancy-related appointments. The PWFA will ultimately curb this by enabling pregnant employees to have more flexibility in the workplace.
There are currently more than 30 states that have workplace accommodation laws in place for pregnant employees, according to the EEOC. The PWFA will not replace federal, state, and local laws if they are “more protective” of workers who are pregnant or have a pregnancy-related condition. Wyoming and Florida are the only states that do not have any pregnancy accommodation laws at the state level, and rely on federal laws alone.
The EEOC has not issued a proposed version of the regulations necessary to carry out the PWFA yet, but the House Committee on Education and Labor Report on the PWFA lists some examples, such as being excused from strenuous activity and having the ability to sit down when needed. Employers must provide accommodations such as these unless such accommodations cause an “undue hardship” on them.
According to a 2022 study conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center and Morning Consult, 1 in 5 mothers say they have experienced pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and 1 in 4 have thought about leaving a job due to limited accommodations or worries about discrimination. A Better Balance, an organization which helped lead the campaign to pass the PWFA, says on its website that these individuals “have been forced to choose between their health and a paycheck for far too long.” The PWFA can help prevent employees from having to make this difficult choice.
The PWFA could also have a positive impact on Black mothers. According to the Center for Disease Control’s newest report on maternal mortality rates, 69.9 per 100,000 Black women experience maternal mortality in the United States, as opposed to 26.6 per 100,00 white women. Moreover, a joint report between A Better Balance and the Black Mamas Matter Alliance explains that Black mothers have the highest labor force participation in the country. Greater protections for Black mothers in the workplace could help reduce the high maternal mortality rate they currently face by providing more flexibility and resources which allow them to care for their bodies and attend medical appointments.
The FMF celebrates the PWFA going into effect and supports the equality and safety of all employees.