On June 27, 2023, new layers of protections for employees who are pregnant and nursing mothers will go into effect. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) and the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP) were recently signed into law by President Biden.
These laws essentially mirror protections already in place in Minnesota, but effective in June, violations of these laws will also become federal offenses. Employees adversely affected for PWFA violation will have recourse through the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and those adversely affected by PUMP violations will have recourse through the US. Department of Labor. These federal agencies are expected to implement regulations to aid in the enforcement of the statutes, and employers will need to be on the lookout for such developments.
Understanding the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) and its Requirements for Employers
The PWFA is fashioned after the Americans With Disabilities Act, which does not cover pregnancy. It requires all employers with 15 or more employees to offer reasonable accommodations for job applicants and employees with known limitations (whether physical or mental) related to pregnancy, childbirth, and associated medical conditions, unless providing the accommodation would create an undue hardship for the employer. Minnesota’s Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) imposes the same requirements. WESA also imposes an across the board lifting restriction of 20 pounds.
Typical accommodations are more frequent restroom or rest breaks, light-duty assignments, easy access to water or snacks, and special seating allowances, etc. The PWFA adopts the same interactive process required by the ADA for settling on an appropriate accommodation and determining whether a particular accommodation is reasonable.
The PWFA also prohibits employers from forcing pregnant employees to take a leave of absence, paid or unpaid, if another reasonable accommodation is available.
Understanding the PUMP Act: Expanded Rights for Nursing Mothers in the Workplace
The PUMP Act expands federally mandated break time rights for nursing mothers. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) currently requires employers to provide non-exempt employees reasonable break time and a clean space shielded from view to express breastmilk for one year after their child’s birth. PUMP expands workplace accommodation requirements to salaried employees.
Note that break time for expressing milk may be unpaid under the PUMP Act, but it must be paid under WESA and the paid time requirements of WESA will remain in place. WESA protects the pumping activities of nursing mothers and although employers may require that milk expression breaks run concurrently with rest breaks already in place for other employees, including existing unpaid breaks, employers cannot reduce an employee’s pay or require an employee to make up time used to express milk if the existing break time is insufficient to noncomplete the process.
Next Steps for Employers Regarding the PWFA and PUMP Act
In summary, employers should take note of the new federal protections for pregnant and nursing mothers under the PWFA and PUMP Act, which will take effect in June 2023. These laws reflect similar protections already in place in Minnesota but will also become federal offenses for violations. Employers must ensure they are in compliance with the requirements of these laws, including offering reasonable accommodations and break time for expressing milk. Employers should also stay up to date on any forthcoming regulations from the EEOC and DOL to aid in the enforcement of these statutes.