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New Federal Law Solidifies Pregnancy Rights

Under the newly enacted Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), it is illegal for an employer to:

  • Not make reasonable accommodations for “known limitations related to the pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions of a qualified employee” unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would pose an undue hardship on the operation of its business;

  • Require a qualified employee affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions to accept an accommodation other than a reasonable one arrived at through the interactive process;

  • Deny employment opportunities to qualified employees if such denial is based on the need of a reasonable accommodation to the known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions;

  • Require a covered employee to take leave, paid or unpaid, if another reasonable accommodation can be provided to the known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions; or

  • Take adverse action against a qualified employee on account of the employee requesting or using a reasonable accommodation for known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions of the employee.

Under the PWFA, a “known limitation” means a physical or mental condition related to, affected by, or arising out of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions that the employer is aware of.


A “qualified employee” means an employee or applicant who, with or without reasonable accommodation, can perform the essential functions of the position. An employee is still “qualified” even if they are unable to perform the essential functions of the job temporarily or in the near future, or could perform the essential functions of the job if reasonably accommodated.


The PWFA contains an anti-retaliation provision, which prohibits all persons from discriminating against an employee because such employee has opposed any act or practice made unlawful by the PWFA, or because such employee made a charge, testified, assisted or participated in any manner in an investigation under the PWFA.


It also contains a prohibition against coercion, intimidation, threats or interference with employees’ exercise or enjoyment of any right under the PWFA.


Damages for violation of the law include reinstatement, back and front pay, compensatory and punitive damages, and fees and costs. Compensatory and punitive damages for intentional discrimination may not be awarded if the employer can demonstrate that it engaged in good faith efforts to identify and make a reasonable accommodation.


The PWFA expands protections to the conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth, as well as related medical conditions that are not defined as disabilities under the ADA.

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