Learning about an employee’s pregnancy can raise difficult questions for any business. How do you support your employee’s needs during pregnancy while also keeping your business running smoothly? Unlike other health and medical conditions, which tend to fall under the purview of a single set of laws or leave of absence policies, pregnancy accommodations at work are guaranteed by multiple state and federal laws.

Here's what employers need to know about pregnancy protections at work, and how to support your employee’s pregnancy while meeting your obligations under the law.

Who Is Entitled to Pregnancy Accommodations at Work?

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is a federal law passed by Congress in 2022 that went into effect on June 27, 2023. Although it isn’t the first law to address pregnancy accommodations at work, its purpose is to close some of the gaps and loopholes in other laws that provide protections to pregnant people.

This new law applies to “covered employers” in the public and private sector. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC.gov), this category includes federal agencies, as well as private entities that employ at least 15 people.

Covered employers must provide “reasonable accommodations” to employees with a known limitation related to their pregnancy. An employer can only deny a reasonable accommodation request if it would present an undue hardship to the employer.

Under the PWFA, some pregnancy-related conditions include:

  • Postpartum depression
  • Morning sickness
  • Preeclampsia
  • Gestational diabetes

The PWFA also covers related medical conditions, including:

  • Fertility treatment
  • Menstruation
  • Abortion
  • Miscarriage

What Other Laws Cover Pregnancy-Related Issues?

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act only covers accommodations; it doesn’t cover other situations a pregnant worker might encounter, such as wrongful termination. However, the PWFA doesn’t take the place of other laws on the books that may offer additional protections to pregnant workers or cover more scenarios. These include:

Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits “discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.” Pregnant workers can’t be treated differently during the hiring process, or be denied fair access to pay, leave, promotions, or employee benefits due to their pregnancy.

In theory, the PDA can entitle employees to pregnancy accommodations at work, if other employers have access to similar accommodations. In practice, this protects pregnant employees from being treated differently, but doesn’t proactively provide accommodations if other employees don’t have access to them either.

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects employees with a pregnancy-related disability that prevents them from performing the essential functions of their job. Both the employer and employee must engage in the ADA interactive process, a two-way dialogue that determines which accommodations are reasonable and effective.

The major difference between the PWFA and the ADA is that pregnancy itself isn’t an ADA-qualifying condition, only disabilities that arise during or after pregnancy.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may also provide protections during or after pregnancy in the form of medical or parental leave. According to DOL.gov, this federal law provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for eligible employees meeting certain qualifying conditions, including the birth or adoption of a child.

Employees who qualify for accommodations under the PWFA could still be eligible for leave during or after their pregnancy under FMLA.

5 Examples of Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnancy

Pregnancy accommodations at work: pregnant manager talking on the phone

Several different laws provide protections to pregnant workers, which may entitle them to pregnancy accommodations at work. But what are reasonable accommodations for pregnancy? Here are five examples of workplace accommodations that may apply.

1. A flexible work schedule

One straightforward accommodation is a flexible work schedule. Pregnant employees may need to take additional breaks to rest, use the bathroom, or have a snack. They may also need to take time off work to attend doctor’s appointments.

2. A remote work arrangement

Permission to work remotely can give pregnant employees the flexibility they need to perform the essential functions of their job during pregnancy. If they’re experiencing morning sickness or other symptoms related to pregnancy, they can work from the comfort of their home rather than having to come into the office.

3. A breastfeeding or pumping room

Pregnant employees may need access to a breastfeeding room or lactation room during or after their pregnancy. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the PUMP Act allow for a private space that’s not a bathroom and sufficient break time to pump breast milk, for up to one year after the birth of a child.

4. Light-duty work

Light-duty work may be a reasonable accommodation if a pregnant employee is unable to perform strenuous activity or stand for long periods of time. They could be given the option to perform less strenuous tasks for the duration of their pregnancy.

5. A leave of absence

Sometimes, light-duty work isn’t enough to meet a pregnant employee’s needs. A leave of absence can be a suitable accommodation, especially if the employee has a medical condition that qualifies them for FMLA or the ADA. For example, if a healthcare provider recommends bed rest, a leave of absence may be a reasonable accommodation.

Best Practices for Pregnancy Accommodations at Work

Sometimes, a pregnant employee knows exactly which accommodation they need, and it’s easy for the employer to provide it. In other cases, you might need to engage in an interactive process to determine which accommodation is reasonable and effective.

Here are three best practices to keep in mind when considering an accommodation request related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Know the laws

First, know what laws apply to the situation. While the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act closes some gaps in federal law, it doesn’t affect any state laws. California, New York, Washington, D.C., and other state and local governments all have laws of their own, some of which may be more generous than the PWFA.

In addition, your company may choose to offer paid parental leave as an employee benefit, providing more leave than is required under FMLA or the ADA.

Document the process

Whether you approve an accommodation right away, initiate the interactive process, or deny a request due to undue hardship, be sure to document every step of the process. In some cases, you may need to request documentation from a healthcare provider to determine a reasonable accommodation for a pregnancy-related condition.

Always store medical files separately from other personnel files in order to protect the employee’s privacy and comply with confidentiality requirements.

Avoid unreasonable requirements

Although the employer has some say in which accommodations are reasonable, they can’t mandate an accommodation that the employee doesn’t want. For example, an employer can’t require an employee to take a leave of absence if they requested a flexible schedule or light-duty work and that option would be reasonable.

If an employee is eligible for leave under FMLA, they may be entitled to intermittent leave rather than being required to take all of their leave at once. 

Manage Pregnancy Accommodations With Pulpstream

Manager taking care of her baby while working

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act closes some loopholes in existing laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Under this new law, pregnant workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations at work, which may include light-duty work, a flexible schedule, and a separate room for breastfeeding or lactation.

In addition to the PWFA, pregnant employees may be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, and state parental leave laws.

Pulpstream enables employers to track workplace accommodations for a wide range of scenarios, including pregnancy, autism, ADHD, and PTSD. Our no-code, cloud-based platform allows you to manage accommodation requests, leave of absence requests, and the return-to-work process, all while complying with applicable laws.

Request a demo today to see how you can make life easier for your employees and your HR team by streamlining the accommodation process.