On April 1, 2018, the Massachusetts Pregnant Worker Fairness Act (“PWFA”) went into effect. This new law mandates a variety of workplace accommodations for expecting and new mothers and ensures that they should not be subject to discrimination in relation to their pregnancy.
The bill provides pregnant women reasonable accommodations including "more frequent or unpaid breaks, time off to recover from childbirth with or without pay, acquisition or modification of equipment, seating, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, job restructuring, light duty, break time and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk, assistance with manual labor, or modified work schedules” as long as the accommodation “would not impose undue hardship on the employer.” You can view the full text of the law here.
The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has issued a guidance to assist employers and individuals to understand their rights and obligations under the PWFA. The MCAD guidance can be found here.
It is worth noting that prior to enactment of the Massachusetts PWFA there were already some legal protections in place for expecting and new mothers. It was already unlawful to discriminate against someone because of pregnancy under federal and state law. In addition, the US Department of Labor had issued regulations requiring employers to provide break times and appropriate spaces for new mothers to express milk in the workplace. As emphasized by its drafters, the PWFA focuses on the deficiency in the law that failed to compel an employer to provide “reasonable accommodations” to expecting and new mothers.
The new PWFA:
- "Provides clarity regarding definitions and terms related to current employees in need of accommodations related to pregnancy.
- Aligns state and federal laws regarding reasonable accommodation as it relates to the essential functions of the job.
- Provides flexibility rather than a mandating specific types of accommodations for employers and employees.
- Provides a reasonable mechanism for employees and the employer to achieve a reasonable accommodation by engaging in a defined process, eliminating a concern by businesses that an employee could reject multiple reasonable offers of accommodation.
- Adds language allowing the employer to evaluate undue hardship of an accommodation and the ability of employee to perform the essential functions of the job as it relates to an employer’s program, enterprise or business.
- Provides opportunity for an employer to request documentation for certain cases to ensure that accommodations are reasonable for both employees and employers.
- Limits provisions to current employees instead of employees and job applicants.
- Reduces unnecessary burdens and allows for electronic or other means other than a “poster” for notifying employees.
- Allows for certain accommodations to be either paid or unpaid."