In a pivotal moment for both employers and employees, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has introduced proposed regulations designed to bring clarity and direction to pregnancy-related reasonable accommodations. These regulations were announced on August 7, 2023 (and published in the Federal Register on August 11, 2023) and aim to assist employers in aligning with the recently enacted Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which significantly extends protections for pregnant employees and which encompasses pregnancy-related matters. In this blog post, we will explore the highlights from the proposal and emphasize the importance of stakeholders providing feedback during the comment period.
Expanding Terminology May Prompt Changes
The PWFA broadens workplace protections for pregnant workers, mandating that employers with 15 or more employees treat pregnancy-related accommodation requests similarly to those related to disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The proposed rule defines “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” broadly, encompassing various aspects, from current and past pregnancies to lactation, birth control, menstruation, and miscarriages. Furthermore, it permits accommodation requests for healthy pregnancies without specifying a threshold for the severity of the condition.
Unique Definitions for Pregnancy-Related Accommodations
While the proposed regulations for the PWFA share similarities with the ADA, some definitions are unique to pregnancy-related accommodations. The PWFA introduces two definitions of the word “qualified,” acknowledging that temporary limitations on essential job functions may still qualify for accommodation. “Known limitation” refers to a pregnancy-related condition communicated to the employer. Additional terms include “temporary,” which means “lasting for a limited time, not permanent, and may extend beyond ‘in the near future,'” where the term “in the near future” generally means up to 40 weeks.
Employers have the option to request documentation when they have reasonable concerns about the connection between a condition and pregnancy. However, the EEOC emphasizes the importance of the interactive process, which involves a dialogue between employers and employees to identify reasonable accommodations. Employers should exercise caution when requesting documentation unnecessarily, as their action could lead to allegations of adverse treatment.
The Broad Scope of “Reasonable Accommodation”
The term “reasonable accommodation” under the PWFA, borrowed from the ADA, encompasses modifications to the work environment or work processes. The proposed rule lists potential accommodations, including breaks, schedule adjustments, telecommuting, parking, job restructuring, light duty work, alternate sitting and standing, and more.
Accommodations Can Be Denied
Similar to the ADA, the PWFA defines the term “undue hardship” as significant difficulty or expense for the employer, allowing accommodations to be denied. The proposal outlines factors to consider when determining whether temporarily suspending essential job functions would impose an undue hardship.
Coexisting Federal, State, and Local Laws
The PWFA does not replace more stringent federal, state, or local laws. Employers must remain vigilant about additional obligations imposed by these laws. These laws may supersede the PWFA regulations.
In navigating the evolving landscape shaped by the EEOC’s proposed regulations for the PWFA, Sabeza HR is here to guide your company. These regulations represent a significant step forward in clarifying pregnancy-related accommodations in the workplace. Employers must maintain a vigilant eye on these developments, ensuring compliance with existing laws and actively participating in the comment process to influence the final regulations. As the workplace accommodation landscape transforms, Sabeza HR can assist employers to create inclusive and supportive environments that cater to the diverse needs of all employees, including those with pregnancy-related requirements.