Massachusetts Passes Law that Increases Workplace Protections for Pregnant Employees
On July 27, 2017, the Massachusetts legislature signed The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“PWFA”), which will take effect on April 1, 2018.
The PWFA amends Massachusetts’ discrimination statute (MGL c. 151B) to prohibit employers who have six or more employees from discriminating against pregnant employees or employees experiencing a condition related to pregnancy.
Prior to the PWFA, pregnancy was not considered a disability and pregnant employees were not a protected class in Massachusetts. Pregnancy related disabilities, such as pre-eclampsia or gestational diabetes, were treated the same as other disabilities and therefore triggered protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. However, conditions associated with pregnancy that did not rise to the level of a disability, such as shortness of breath or inability to lift a certain amount of weight, did not trigger legal protections.
The broad language of the PWFA – “pregnancy or any condition related to the employee’s pregnancy” – means that employees who, for example, have shortness of breath, a sensitive stomach, back pain, or swollen feet, so long as it is related to their pregnancy, are arguably entitled to request and receive reasonable accommodations at work.
The PWFA explicitly lists several reasonable accommodations that employers may have to provide, including but not limited to:
- Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position
- Light duty
- Assistance with manual labor, or
- A modified work schedule.
Because these accommodations are defined as “reasonable” within the PWFA, employers will be hard pressed to argue that providing these accommodations poses an undue hardship. Under the language of the PWFA, employers claiming undue hardship must show that the accommodation poses “significant difficulty or expense” to the employer.
This long overdue law spells out in clear terms what employers are required to provide to pregnant employees or employees experiencing a condition related to pregnancy and hopefully will serve its purpose of normalizing pregnancy in the workplace.