Is My Business Ready for the PWFA? What You Need to Know
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: What Your HR Department Needs to Know
If your HR department is up to speed, then you know the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) was signed into law in December 2022, and its measures became active as of June 27, 2023 for businesses with 15 or more employees. You may be wondering: Is my business ready for the PWFA? What does the act entail for my business on the day-to-day operations level?
In this post, we’ll go through the essentials of the act and give you some pointers on how to get your company into compliance shape.
Why Do We Need the PWFA?
First of all, let’s clarify how the PWFA differs from previous legislation banning discrimination around pregnancy. Title VII of the Civil Rights At of 1964 is a notable one. It ended the practice of employers firing or not hiring people based on their pregnancy status – something that became a de facto death knell for women’s careers if they chose to have children. Minimum unpaid parental leave also became a standard with the FMLA.
But there was still a hole left in the treatment of pregnant employees who remained in the workforce until the time for parental leave. For example, a woman working at a shipping company lifts over 50 pounds on a daily basis. Should her company require her to continue lifting this amount when pregnant? Common sense and decency would say, “No, find something else for her to do for several months.”
But this was not legally required in the past – which would result in similar circumstances to the pre-Title VII era. Companies might not fire someone, but if they need tasks performed that endanger pregnancy, many employees will choose to leave.
This is where the PWFA comes in. In essence, the PWFA establishes temporary, ADA-like accommodations for pregnant workers, requiring safe and accommodating environments for employees who choose to stay at work through pregnancy.
What Does Compliance Look Like?
Mirroring ADA compliance may be a good way to approach this. It also means that compliance very much depends on the job. Here are some common suggestions to use as a starting place:
Letting an employee keep a water bottle nearby
Allowing extra breaks to eat, drink water, use the restroom, and/or be off their feet
Excusing the pregnant employee from strenuous tasks or tasks that expose them to pregnancy risks
Giving them a closer parking spot
Providing a private, clean space to breastfeed – that is not a bathroom
Granting time off related to childbirth (i.e., medical appointments, preparation, and recovery)
Once again, most of this might seem like common sense. But many workspaces are not set up to make these accommodations as much as you’d expect.
For instance, retail workers don’t typically restock the floor while carrying a water bottle beyond the break room. How will you handle it if a pregnant employee always wants to keep a water bottle with them?
Go through the above list and ask yourself these questions. Do you have a room or part of a room at your business that could be made into a private and hygienic spot for breastfeeding? Do you need to make some temporary hires so a pregnant employee can take off a few weeks or months after childbirth? What kinds of non-strenuous tasks will still help your company stay afloat during an employee’s expected period?
Talk to Your Employees
Beyond your readiness self-assessment, have conversations with your employees about what they need for their present or plans to have children. This is another requirement of the PWFA that makes sense. According to the Act, you must include your employees in the decisions for accommodations – and why would you not want to do that? You’ll get far more useful and accurate information straight from the pregnant person. It will help you use resources with greater care and effectiveness, a boon especially for smaller businesses.
There is a clause that businesses are not asked to do things that cause undue financial or logistical hardship. This is another reason to create a comfortable space for open conversation. Some accommodations will have to involve a compromise between employer and employee. If your company tends a stingray-petting zoo in a coral reef without an office, you don’t have to build a floating breastfeeding room. But you can work out something with your employee who needs to pump breast milk – perhaps a private tent on the beach?
As with any new HR practice, it’s hard to carry out something if you don’t fully grasp what it is! Your HR department is going to need training on the PWFA. The EEOC has created several posters, webinars, articles, and other resources to help educate HR employees about the new standards.
Although it will take additional dialogue and adjustments, the PWFA should ultimately benefit your business and your employees. The more you align yourself with the PWFA, the more you make your company a welcoming place to the vast majority of people in the U.S. who want to have a family and a career.