On April 2, 2018, "An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act"( "PWFA") becomes law. With this new law comes new protections for pregnant workers in the Commonwealth by providing additional safeguards for those workers who are seeking workplace accommodations relating to their pregnancy. The PWFA explicitly extends coverage for pregnancy and related conditions, including lactation.
What the Act does do is add existing protections used in disability cases and applies them specifically to pregnancy situations by requiring employers to engage in an interactive process to provide employees reasonable accommodations to meet their specific physical needs. The only exception is if the application of the law would impose an undue hardship upon the employer. The PWFA contains those accommodations that employers must make when dealing with pregnant employees, including, but not limited to the following:
1. Time off to recover from childbirth.
2. More frequent or longer breaks (with or without pay).
3. Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position.
4. Job restructuring as an accommodation.
5. Light duty.
6. Private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk. This is the part of the act that extends beyond the physical term of pregnancy.
7. Assistance with manual labor.
8. Modified work schedules.
The statute allows employers to require documentation to support the above accommodations (for example, a doctor's note or report). An employer may not request documentation for common pregnancy accommodations. As well, employers are obligated to post written the notice of the Act outlining the right to reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and related conditions. What should employers do to begin complying with the requirements of the new law?
We suggest the following affirmative steps an employer can take to fully comply with the law:
1. Evaluate and revise any applicable employee manuals or handbooks to outline and incorporate the new law. In particular, it is critical that employers incorporate anti-discrimination and retaliation language into this section.
2. Consider policies regarding all break periods by incorporating language regarding the treatment of pregnant employees.
3. Make sure that pregnant employees are provided sufficient "private areas" to express breast milk in accordance with the dictates of the Act.
4. Provide notice by way of a handbook, manual or by other means to current employees relating to the right to be free from discrimination in relation to pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition. The notice must be provided on or before April 1, 2018.
5. Make sure that when an employer receives notice of a pregnancy-related condition that the employer will provide the employee with a notice or statement of their rights under the PWFA.
6. Put into place a system wherein you interactively engage with your employees as to what accommodations are necessary to assist them during their pregnancy.
The Katz Law Group will continue to provide updates as to our clients regarding further guidance or regulations pertaining to the PWFA. If you have any questions, be sure to call us and we will help you navigate the details of this new legislation. You can always reach us at 508-480-8202.