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The Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act (PWFA) took effect on June 27, giving employees additional rights when they need a change to the way they do their jobs because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

The act requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations when a worker has limitations covered by the law. These limitations might require a change to work hours or break times or another workplace change.

To make sure your managers aren’t inadvertently denying employees these new rights, make sure they are trained to:

  1. Talk with the employee. When a pregnant employee asks for a workplace change, the first step is to engage in the “interactive process.� This means talking with the employee about the requested change. A request for a reasonable accommodation needs to be granted unless it will result in undue hardship to the employer (a significant difficulty or expense).
  2. Understand there are no “magic words.� An employee is unlikely to use the phrase, “I need an accommodation for my pregnancy.� Instead, they might ask for a different chair or a change to their schedule to accommodate morning sickness. When an employee initiates a conversation like this, a manager should recognize it as a request for an accommodation. The request shouldn’t be brushed off or automatically denied; the interactive process should begin. Managers who aren’t sure whether or not the request can be granted should know how to reach out to human resources or another company contact who can answer questions.
  3. Agree to simple requests. A manager can be empowered to automatically agree to easy accommodations like more frequent bathroom breaks or a chair for employees who usually stand at their workplace. An employee might need a closer parking spot, or a uniform that fits properly throughout the pregnancy. Managers should know how to make these changes happen.
  4. Avoid overstepping. It can be tempting for managers to think they know what’s best for an employee. However, the PWFA prohibits managers from requiring an employee to accept an accommodation without talking about it. For example, the manager shouldn’t automatically cut down on an employee’s hours or require the employee to take leave because the employee is pregnant. The request for the accommodation should come from the employee and should be discussed by the employee and manager. Managers can ask pregnant employees if there is anything they can do to make their job easier, however, and can also make it known that employees who need changes to their work because of pregnancy are welcome to talk to the manager about them.
  5. Refrain from retaliating against an employee. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against workers who ask for an accommodation because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. Employees should not be denied a promotion or threatened with job loss because they asked for a reasonable accommodation.

The PWFA is a federal law, so it is in effect nationwide. It does not replace state or local laws that also protect pregnant workers, so managers should also be trained on those laws then they apply.

Key to remember: Managers should be trained in the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act so they understand employee rights and how to handle accommodation requests.