This post updates our July 2017 blog, when we informed you that the Massachusetts legislature had just passed a new Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. As we said then, and what remains true now, the law goes into effect on April 1, 2018. So, workers and employers should both be ready to comply with this added layer of protection for pregnant employees.
As expected, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination–the agency endowed with oversight of workplace discrimination–has recently provided some additional information about the contours of the new law. Instead of enacting “regulations”, however, the MCAD has simply issued a two-page “guidance” document. (Perhaps in a future post, we’ll describe the difference between these varying administrative decisions.)
The MCAD’s Guidance on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act highlights a number of items, such as the following:
- Upon request, employers have an obligation to communicate with employees, or engage in an “interactive process”, in order to determine reasonable accommodation for pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions.
- Employers must accommodate pregnancy-related conditions, such as the need to express breast, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship.
- Employers cannot require pregnant employees to accept a specific accommodation if another reasonable accommodation would enable the workers to perform the essential functions of their jobs without undue hardship.
- Employers cannot require medical documentation about certain specific accommodation requests, i.e., for: “(i) more frequent restroom, food or water breaks; (ii) seating; (iii) limits on lifting no more than 20 pounds; and (iv) private, non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk.”
There are also precise notice requirements about the new law that employers must give to both new and existing employees.
Being pregnant at work, or returning to work after giving birth, can be a stressful experience. Attorney Nathan Olin at Olin Lippiello LLP has long fought for the rights of pregnant women in the workplace. (He represents occasional employers as well.) If you believe you are confronting discrimination or unfair treatment based on pregnancy status, give him a call or email him. He’d be happy to talk about the PWFA and the other Massachusetts and federal laws that might apply to your particular situation.