Understanding the Key Components of the EEOC's Ruling on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

pregnant worker

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) will finally be effective on June 18, 2024.

On April 15, 2024, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) finalized new rules and regulations under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA or “the Act”), set to be enforced starting June 18, 2024. The regulations aim to enhance workplace accommodations for employees experiencing pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

The regulations come after the PWFA was enacted on December 29, 2022, and have been effective since June 27, 2023. The Act mandates that employers with at least 15 employees must offer reasonable accommodations for such workers, provided these do not impose an undue hardship on business operations. This requirement exists even when the medical conditions do not qualify as disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The latest rule clarifies and, in some respects, broadens the initial obligations outlined in the PWFA, providing more robust protections for affected employees.

The (PWFA) represents a significant step forward in protecting the rights of pregnant employees in the workplace. Enacted to combat pregnancy discrimination and ensure reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, the PWFA has been a focal point of attention for employers, employees, and legal experts alike.

1. Affirmative Obligations to Provide Accommodations

One of the central components of the final regulations is the affirmation of employers' affirmative obligations to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. Under the PWFA, employers are required to accommodate the known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer's business operations.

Four key accommodations for pregnancy are outlined to be deemed reasonable and should be provided without requiring additional proof: (1) more frequent bathroom breaks; (2) breaks for food and drink; (3) permission to have water and other beverages accessible; and (4) the flexibility to sit or stand as needed.

Additionally, the regulations outline other accommodations that, while not deemed to be necessary, may be considered reasonable depending on the circumstances. These include restructuring jobs, altering work schedules, utilizing paid leave, and reassigning employees to vacant positions.

The EEOC's comprehensive list of conditions that may warrant accommodations under the PWFA spans a broad spectrum. The list includes not only current and past pregnancies but also lactation, the use of birth control, menstruation, postpartum depression, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, infertility treatments, endometriosis, miscarriage, stillbirth, and decisions related to abortion, among others. This extensive range has sparked debate, with some arguing that it goes beyond the EEOC's remit. The inclusion of abortion-related accommodations has also generated significant controversy and is expected to face legal challenges.

Notably, unpaid leave in lieu of an accommodation is the last resort. The PWFA and its accompanying final rule reinforce that unpaid leave should be considered only as a last resort for accommodations. Employers are directed to explore all other reasonable accommodations that do not impose undue hardship before resorting to unpaid leave. Additionally, the guidance emphasizes that requiring an employee to take unpaid leave or to deplete their paid leave while waiting for a decision on their accommodation request could constitute a violation of the PWFA, particularly if there are paid work options available that could be assigned during the interactive process.

2. Scope of Covered Employees

The EEOC's ruling clarifies that the PWFA applies not only to pregnant employees and applicants, but also to those with pregnancy-related medical conditions.

Under the ADA, only a "qualified individual" who can perform the essential job functions, with or without reasonable accommodation, is eligible for such adjustments. However, the PWFA takes a different approach. It considers an individual qualified and thus entitled to reasonable accommodations even if they are temporarily unable to perform an essential job function, provided they will be able to do so in the "near future." This distinction allows for greater flexibility in accommodating employees or applicants for a limited duration.

Yes, applicants and new hires are covered as well. The PWFA extends its protections to job applicants, prohibiting employers from rejecting a pregnant candidate based on the anticipation of childbirth-related absences. The interpretive guidance acknowledges that navigating accommodation requests can be more challenging for applicants than for current employees. It suggests that employers should train recruitment and onboarding staff to clearly communicate the accommodation request process during hiring. The guidance also highlights that applicants may lack detailed knowledge about the employer's operations or the specificities of the job that might influence their accommodation needs. Employers are encouraged to proactively identify and address potential barriers in the hiring process, or to inform applicants early on about the steps to request necessary accommodations, thus smoothing the path for both parties.

This broad coverage interpretation seeks to ensure that all individuals affected by pregnancy-related limitations are entitled to the protections afforded by the PWFA, regardless of their specific employment status or job responsibilities.

3. Comparison to ADA Standards

The EEOC also emphasizes the parallel between the PWFA and the ADA regarding the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations. While pregnancy itself is not considered a disability under the ADA, pregnancy-related impairments may qualify as disabilities if they substantially limit a major life activity. Employers are advised to apply a similar framework for evaluating requests for accommodations under both laws. There are differences, however.

Requesting documentation from a health care provider differs slightly under the EEOC PWFA rules. The final rule limits employers from requesting documentation under several conditions. These include situations where the need for an accommodation is clear, where the employer is already aware of a pregnancy-related limitation, or when the accommodation involves one of the four primary adjustments previously mentioned above—additional restroom and food or drink breaks, allowing beverages near the workstation, or permitting sitting or standing as needed. Documentation is not required for lactation-related accommodations or when the same accommodation is provided to other employees for reasons not covered by the PWFA without needing documentation.

Another difference between the PWFA and the ADA is the timing of providing the accommodation. The final rule under the PWFA underscores the need for employers to act quickly in responding to accommodation requests, aligning with but emphasizing more prompt action compared to the ADA's interactive process. The rule also suggests that providing an interim accommodation can reduce the chances of being found at fault for an unnecessary delay. This proactive approach aims to ensure that employees receive the needed adjustments without undue waiting.

4. Interactive Process and Documentation

The EEOC underscores the importance of engaging in an interactive process between employers and pregnant employees to determine appropriate accommodations. This process involves open communication, assessment of job-related limitations, and consideration of potential accommodations.

But note the triggering events under the PWFA. The guidance issued with the final rule clarifies that even informal requests, such as verbal conversations with direct supervisors, can initiate accommodation obligations under the law. An employee's failure to complete specific forms or to communicate with the designated supervisor or department does not justify delaying or denying accommodation. Essentially, merely expressing the need for accommodation can be enough to inform the employer and start the interactive process of providing that accommodation.

The final rule recognizes instances where an individual could be eligible for accommodations under both the PWFA and the ADA due to pregnancy-related limitations. The accompanying interpretive guidance clarifies that employees need not specify which law they are invoking when requesting accommodations. Thus, it is important for employers to ensure that human resources and management teams are well-trained to recognize these situations and apply the appropriate legal framework.

Moreover, employers are encouraged to maintain thorough documentation of the interactive process and accommodation decisions to demonstrate compliance with the PWFA.

5. Anti-Retaliation Protections

The EEOC also reaffirmed in its rule the anti-retaliation protections provided by the PWFA, emphasizing that employers cannot retaliate against employees for requesting or receiving accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Retaliation against employees asserting their rights under the PWFA is unlawful and may result in legal repercussions for employers.


The EEOC's regulations on the PWFA serve to clarify key components of this important legislation, providing guidance to employers and employees alike on their rights and obligations regarding pregnancy accommodations in the workplace. By affirming the obligations of employers, expanding the scope of covered employees, and emphasizing the importance of the interactive process and anti-retaliation protections, the EEOC reinforces the PWFA's goal of promoting equal treatment and opportunities for pregnant workers. It is incumbent upon employers to familiarize themselves with the EEOC's guidance and ensure compliance with the PWFA to create inclusive and supportive work environments for pregnant employees.

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