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Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Takes Effect April 1

February 27, 2018
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), the newest employment law in Massachusetts, takes effect on April 1 for employers with six or more employees. Here are several key points to make sure employers are aware of what they must do to comply.
The PWFA is enforced by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). The MCAD Web site includes a compliance guidance and an FAQ document. Much of the information in this article is drawn from the statute, Chapter 54 of 2017, and the MCAD guidance. 
The purpose of the PWFA is to prohibit employment discrimination based on pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions, such as lactation or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child. The law also makes it clear that an accommodation to express milk may not include the women’s restroom. It must be another private space although the employer does not need to have the room permanently available - only when its needed by the employee. 
The PWFA also describes employers’ obligations to employees who are pregnant or lactating. Employers may not treat employees or job applicants less favorably than other employees based on pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions; and have an obligation to accommodate pregnant workers. 
According to the MCAD Guidance, following an employee’s request for an accommodation, a covered employer: 
  • Must communicate in good faith with the employee to determine a reasonable accommodation for the pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition. A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment that allows the employee or applicant to perform the essential functions of the job while pregnant or experiencing a pregnancy-related condition, without undue hardship to the employer. 
  • Must accommodate conditions related to pregnancy, including post-pregnancy conditions such as the need to express breast milk for a nursing child, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship on the employer. “Undue hardship” means that providing the accommodation would cause the employer significant difficulty or expense. The burden of proof for any claim of undue hardship would be on the employer. 
  • Cannot require a pregnant employee to accept a particular accommodation, or to begin disability or parental leave if another reasonable accommodation would enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job without undue hardship to the employer.
  • Cannot refuse to hire a pregnant job applicant or applicant with a pregnancy-related condition, because of the pregnancy or the pregnancy-related condition, if an applicant can perform the essential functions of the position with a reasonable accommodation.
  • Cannot deny an employment opportunity or take adverse action against an employee because of the employee’s request for or use of a reasonable accommodation for a pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition.
  • Cannot require medical documentation about the need for an accommodation if the accommodation requested is for: (i) more frequent restroom, food or water breaks; (ii) seating; (iii) limits on lifting no more than 20 pounds; and (iv) private, non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk. 
  • May request medical documentation for other accommodations such as time off to attend to a pregnancy complication or recover from childbirth; temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position; job restructuring; light duty; assistance with manual labor; or a modified work schedule.
An employer shall not be required to discharge or transfer an employee with more seniority or promote an employee who is not able to perform the essential functions of the job with or without a reasonable accommodation. 
According to the statute, employers must provide written notice to employees of the right to be free from discrimination due to pregnancy or a condition related to pregnancy, including the right to reasonable accommodations for conditions related to pregnancy, in a handbook, pamphlet, or other means of notice no later than April 1. The PWFA also requires employers to notify employees of their rights at the time of hire and within 10 days of the employee notifying the employer of a pregnancy or pregnancy related condition.  
AIM has invited MCAD staff members to attend the monthly Human Resource Roundtables in either March or April to discuss the new law in more detail. Details will be provided.
AIM HR Solutions is currently developing a model PWFA policy and supporting documentation that will be available to members who subscribe to the AIM Model Handbook Subscription Service. For more information about how to participate in the subscription service, please contact Nicole Barrett at
Please contact the AIM Employer Hotline at 800-470-6277 if you have any questions about this or any other HR related matter. 
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