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New federal protections go into effect for pregnant workers

On Behalf of | Jul 28, 2023 | Pregnancy Discrimination

At the end of June, a federal law took effect providing new protections for pregnant and postpartum workers in the United States. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires employers to offer “reasonable accommodations” for employees affected by conditions related to pregnancy.

While the new law provides greater protections for millions of pregnant workers in the U.S., California’s and New York’s state law protections on behalf of pregnant workers are more protective than federal law.

What does “reasonable accommodation” mean?

The new federal law strengthens existing federal rules prohibiting workplace discrimination by requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and related medical conditions. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says about one-third of the 2,000 pregnancy-related discrimination claims filed in 2022 were over a lack of accommodations by employers. Reasonable accommodations may include:

  • Providing chairs or stools for workers who would normally be on their feet for hours
  • Flexible scheduling for those dealing with morning sickness
  • Time off for medical checkups before and after childbirth
  • Temporary reassignments to lighter duties
  • Eliminating exposure to harmful chemicals
  • Extra breaks for using the bathroom, monitoring blood sugar levels or breastfeeding

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act allows employers to object to providing an accommodation if it presents an “undue hardship” for the company and defines an “undue hardship” as a significant difficulty or expense for the employer.

Workers in California also receive extensive protections for medical conditions related to pregnancy. These conditions include fertility treatments, undergoing an abortion, experiencing an early pregnancy loss or dealing with postpartum depression.

What are your rights for pregnancy leave in California?

Workers in California are already covered under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act against discrimination over pregnancy, childbirth and related conditions. You can request a total of 7 months of job-protected leave (three months of baby-bonding leave pursuant to the California Family Rights Act and  up to four months of pregnancy disability leave provided you have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to taking leave). While your employer is not legally required to pay you, you are eligible to apply for Paid Family Leave and disability insurance benefits from the State of California.

You are expected to notify your employer before taking leave or requesting an accommodation. Do so as soon as is practical in case an emergency or unforeseen complication occurs. The new federal law and California rules are there to help you have a healthy pregnancy and recover from childbirth without the added pressure of losing your job.


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