The rights of pregnant and nursing employees often seem to be discussed less than the rights of other people who face discrimination and obstacles in the workplace. Since working through pregnancy and returning to work after giving birth are an economic necessity for many women – especially those who get little if any paid maternity leave — these rights are more important than ever.
At the beginning of this year, federal protections for pregnant and nursing workers were strengthened. This was accomplished via an amendment co-sponsored by Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey to the $1.7 trillion federal spending bill passed by Congress late last year. The two new laws are specific to pregnant and nursing employees.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA)
The PWFA, which is set to take effect in June of this year, requires employers with at least 15 workers to make reasonable accommodations for those who are pregnant unless it would cause undue hardship. That language is basically the same as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, proponents had argued that this right for pregnant workers wasn’t actually codified.
These accommodations can include anything from additional restroom breaks to being given the opportunity to sit periodically if a job involves standing to not having to lift heavy items.
The PUMP Act for Nursing Mothers
This law, which took effect on Jan. 1, adds provisions under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that require employers to allow all nursing employees breaks as needed to pump breast milk. That expands the previous language that excluded salaried and other employees who don’t qualify to receive overtime.
The new law also specifies that employees must be given a clean, private space for pumping. A restroom cannot be their only alternative. Employers are required to be in compliance with the law by April.
If you’re pregnant, it’s important to know what your rights are both during and after your pregnancy. You have rights and protections under federal, state and possibly even local laws. That includes the right to ask for what the law entitles you to without fear of retaliation. If you believe your employer isn’t abiding by the law, it may help to seek legal guidance.