The Federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Essential Support, Especially in Post-Dobbs America

36 Pages Posted: 8 Sep 2023 Last revised: 17 Apr 2024

See all articles by Deborah A. Widiss

Deborah A. Widiss

Indiana University Maurer School of Law

Date Written: 2023

Abstract

The federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, enacted in December 2022, is landmark legislation that will help ensure workers can stay healthy through a pregnancy. It responds to the reality that pregnant workers may need changes at work, such as permission to sit on a stool, carry a water bottle, relief from heavy lifting, or reduced exposure to potentially dangerous chemicals. Workers may also need schedule modifications or leave for prenatal appointments, childbirth, or post-partum recovery, or accommodations to address medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Previously, federal sex discrimination law and federal disability law sometimes required employers to provide such accommodations, but many pregnancy-related needs fell between the cracks. Both employees and employers were confused about how the requirements of those laws interacted. PWFA, passed with strong bipartisan support, provides a clear standard modeled on disability law: employers must provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions, unless doing so would be an undue hardship.

This Article analyzes the new federal statute’s substantive provisions in detail, as well as key legislative history, models for the statutory language, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s proposed regulations. It explains the basic reasonable accommodation requirement, other substantive requirements, the likely scope of “related medical conditions,” and the remedies that will be available if violations occur. The Article also highlights how new restrictions on abortion access make PWFA even more essential. In states that have sharply curtailed abortion rights, more women are carrying pregnancies, including high-risk pregnancies, to term. PWFA is not a substitute for the autonomy to make decisions regarding reproductive health, but it can help keep pregnant workers healthy and assure they are treated with dignity and fairness.

Keywords: PWFA, Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, Accommodation, Disability, Pregnancy, Young v. United Parcel Services, PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act

JEL Classification: K10, K20, K31, K32, K36, J83, J71, J78, J88

Suggested Citation

Widiss, Deborah A., The Federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Essential Support, Especially in Post-Dobbs America ( 2023). Employee Rights and Employment Policy Journal, 2023, Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper No. 512, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4564223

Deborah A. Widiss (Contact Author)

Indiana University Maurer School of Law ( email )

211 S. Indiana Avenue
Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

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