Legislature Passes Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

On July 21st, 2017, the Massachusetts Legislature passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act which guarantees reasonable accommodations and safety measures for pregnant workers. The legislation makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against, refuse to employ, or terminate an individual due to pregnancy or a condition related to pregnancy, including lactation or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child.

“Nobody should have to fear lack of upward mobility in their career because they are pregnant or want to become pregnant, as happens all too often,” said State Senator Barbara L’Italien. “This legislation empowers working families and ensures workers can nurture a healthy pregnancy without undue burden on their employers.”

Reasonable accommodations may include time off to recover from childbirth; more frequent, longer paid or unpaid breaks; procuring or modifying equipment or seating; obtaining temporary transfer, job restructuring, or lighter duty; and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk, among others.

The law prohibits employers from taking the following actions against an employee who is pregnant or has a condition related to the employee’s pregnancy:

  • Taking adverse action against an employee who requests or uses a reasonable accommodation;
  • Denying an employment opportunity to an employee based on the need of the employer to make a reasonable accommodation;
  • Requiring an employee to accept an accommodation if the accommodation is unnecessary to enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job;
  • Requiring an employee to take a leave of absence if another reasonable accommodation may be provided without undue hardship to the employer;
  • Refusing to hire a person who is pregnant because of the pregnancy or because of a condition related to the person’s pregnancy if that person can perform the essential functions of the job with a reasonable accommodation that does not impose an undue hardship on the employer.

The bill directs companies to engage in a collaborative, good faith process with employees and prospective employees to determine effective and reasonable accommodations. In specific instances, employers may require documentation pertaining to the need of accommodation from appropriate health care or rehabilitation professional. This does not apply to accommodations for more frequent restroom, food or water breaks, seating, and limits on lifting over 20 pounds.

The bill has an effective date of April 1, 2018. It now goes to the Governor’s desk for his signature.

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