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Learn the new EEOC changes in the Pregnant Workers Act

The recent Pregnant Workers Act amendments mandate explicit accommodation for pregnant employees, enhancing legal protections against discrimination and retaliation. These changes ensure employers provide necessary accommodations and maintain compliance to avoid legal consequences.

JamieLee Watson
JamieLee Watson

JamieLee is Workable’s HR Advisor and in-house compliance expert.

The recent updates to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) represent significant changes known as the Pregnant Workers Act (PWA). These changes ensure the rights and protections of pregnant employees in the workplace.

Understanding the Pregnant Workers Act

The Pregnant Workers Act addresses issues surrounding pregnancy discrimination and accommodation in the workplace. It mandates that pregnant employees receive fair treatment and reasonable accommodations.

It also emphasizes that discrimination against pregnant employees based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions is unlawful sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Fundamental changes and implications

1. Explicit accommodation requirement

Old PWA: Before the amendments, employers had no explicit federal requirement to provide accommodations for pregnant workers.

New PWA: The amended PWA now explicitly mandates that employers provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees, similar to those required for individuals with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

2. Interactive process and reasonable accommodations

Old PWA: While the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibited discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, it did not specify a formal interactive process for determining reasonable accommodations.

New PWA: The amended PWA emphasizes the importance of engaging in an interactive process between employers and pregnant employees to determine suitable accommodations. This collaborative approach ensures that the needs of pregnant workers are adequately addressed.

3. Anti-retaliation

Old PWA: The PDA prohibited discrimination against pregnant employees but did not explicitly address retaliation against employees who requested accommodations.

New PWA: The amended PWA reinforces the prohibition of retaliation against employees who request accommodations or assert their rights under the Act, providing additional protection for pregnant workers.

4. Notice requirements

Old PWA: Before the amendments, employers had no specific federal requirements to inform employees about their rights regarding accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions.

New PWA: The amended PWA requires employers to notify employees about their rights under the Act, including information about the process for requesting accommodations and the protections against retaliation.

5. Clarity and consistency

Old PWA: The lack of clear federal guidance on accommodations for pregnant workers led to inconsistencies in treatment and uncertainty for both employers and employees.

New PWA: The amendments provide clear guidelines and requirements for employers regarding accommodations for pregnant employees, promoting consistency and fairness in the workplace.

Benefits for employers and employees

The Pregnant Workers Act benefits both employers and employees. Employers who comply with the PWA avoid legal repercussions and demonstrate their commitment to workplace equality and fairness.

Pregnant employees receive the necessary accommodations and fair treatment they deserve, improving their health, safety, and productivity.

Enhanced workplace culture: Employers can cultivate a positive workplace culture that prioritizes inclusivity and accommodation, fostering an environment that values the well-being of all employees.

Retention and productivity: Accommodating pregnant workers can lead to higher retention rates and increased productivity as employees feel supported and valued, resulting in improved morale and engagement.

Legal compliance: Adhering to the provisions of the PWA ensures that employers remain compliant with federal anti-discrimination laws, mitigating the risk of costly litigation and reputational damage.

The risks of non-compliance

Non-compliance with the new Pregnant Workers Act (PWA) can result in various penalties and consequences for employers.

Here are some potential repercussions for failing to adhere to the requirements of the new PWA.

1. Legal action and lawsuits

Employees who believe their rights under the PWA have been violated may file complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or pursue legal action against their employer. This can lead to costly litigation, damages, and legal fees for the employer.

2. Monetary damages

If a court finds that an employer has violated the provisions of the PWA, they may be required to pay monetary damages to the affected employee(s). Damages may include back pay, front pay, compensatory damages for emotional distress, and punitive damages in cases of egregious violations.

3. Civil penalties

Employers who violate the PWA may also be subject to civil penalties imposed by the EEOC or other relevant enforcement agencies. These penalties can vary depending on the severity of the violation and may include fines or other sanctions.

4. Injunctive relief

In addition to monetary damages, courts may also issue injunctive relief requiring the employer to take specific actions to come into compliance with the PWA. This could include implementing policies and procedures to prevent future violations and training employees and managers on their obligations under the law.

5. Reputational damage

Non-compliance with the PWA can also result in reputational damage for the employer. Negative publicity surrounding discrimination lawsuits or findings of non-compliance can harm the employer’s brand image and impact its ability to attract and retain customers, clients, and talented employees.

6. Loss of government contracts and benefits

Some employers, particularly those who contract with the government or receive government funding, may risk losing contracts or eligibility for certain benefits if found to violate anti-discrimination laws like the PWA.

7. Monitoring and oversight

Employers who violate the PWA may be subject to increased monitoring and oversight by regulatory agencies, leading to additional scrutiny and potential repercussions for future compliance failures.

Overall, the penalties for non-compliance with the new PWA can be significant in terms of financial costs and reputational harm. Employers must understand their legal obligations and proactively ensure compliance to avoid these consequences.

Disclaimer: Workable is not a law firm. This article is meant to provide general guidelines and should be used as a reference. It’s not a legal document and doesn’t provide legal advice. Neither the author nor Workable will assume any legal liability that may arise from the use of this article. Always consult your attorney on matters of legal compliance.

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