On April 1, 2018, An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, (“PWFA”) goes into effect. All employers in Massachusetts should be aware of this law. The PWFA extends the protections of Massachusetts anti-discrimination law (Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 151B) to pregnant workers within the Commonwealth, and grants additional safeguards for pregnant workers seeking workplace accommodations relating to their pregnancy. The PWFA specifically extends coverage for pregnancy, and related conditions, including lactation.
Essentially, the PWFA applies the reasonable accommodation standards that are used in disability cases to pregnancy, and requires employers to engage in an interactive process and to provide employees reasonable accommodations, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. The PWFA includes a non-exhaustive list of specific accommodations that may be available to pregnant employees, including:
(1) Time off to recover from childbirth (with or without pay);
(2) More frequent or longer breaks (with or without pay);
(3) Temporary transfer to a less strenuous/hazardous position;
(4) Job restructuring;
(5) Light duty;
(6) Private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk;
(7) Assistance with manual labor; or
(8) Modified work schedules.
The PWFA requires the need to engage in an interactive process, which is essentially a dialogue between the employee and employer concerning possible accommodations that may be available.
The PWFA also makes it illegal for an employer to: (1) retaliate against pregnant workers who seek accommodations, (2) refuse to hire an individual who may need an accommodation relating to pregnancy or the need to express breast milk; (3) require a pregnant or lactating employee to accept an accommodation that does not enable them to perform the essential functions of their job; (4) require a pregnant or lactating employee to take a leave of absence, when other accommodations may be available; and (5) refuse to hire an individual because of her pregnancy ore related condition.
Importantly, all employers covered by the act are required to provide written notification to existing employees of their rights under the PWFA on or before April 1, 2018, and new employees at the start of their employment.
As with other violations of Chapter 151B, employers who fail to comply with the provisions set forth in the PWFA may be liable for back pay, front pay, emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.