New Protections for Pregnant and Nursing Employees

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As 2022 came to a close, two new pieces of federal legislation were enacted providing additional protections to pregnant workers and new moms - the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) and the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers (PUMP) Act.

The PWFA, which has been introduced in every Congress since 2012, garnered bipartisan approval, including from top employer lobbying groups such as the US Chamber of Commerce and the Society for Human Resource Management.

Under the PWFA, employers will be required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees and applicants with known temporary limitations on their ability to perform the essential functions of their jobs based on a physical or mental condition related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship.

“The new law will have a familiar feel to employers as it is modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act,” said Amy Vazquez, Vice President of Employers Association of New Jersey.  “Employers will engage in an interactive process in order to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be made for a pregnant worker.”

The PWFA protects employees from retaliation, coercion, intimidation, threats, or interference if they request or receive a reasonable accommodation.  It also provides that an employer cannot require an employee to take a paid or unpaid leave of absence if another reasonable accommodation can be provided.

Up until now, federal law only required companies provide pregnant workers accommodations if they also gave them to workers with injuries or medical conditions.  

“The standard was equal treatment, not necessarily special treatment,” Vazquez noted of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and prohibits job discrimination because of sex, pregnancy or pregnancy-related medical conditions.  

In 2014, New Jersey enacted its own Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (NJPWFA), which amended the NJ Law Against Discrimination to include pregnancy, including medical conditions related to pregnancy, childbirth, and recovery, as well as breastfeeding, as protected classifications under the law.  Workplace accommodations are required under the NJPWFA for those affected by pregnancy.

“Since NJ employers have been navigating the state law for close to a decade, for most, the new federal law shouldn’t be that big of a deal,” said Vazquez.

The PUMP Act expands existing employer obligations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) to provide an employee with reasonable break time to express breast milk for the employee’s nursing child after the child’s birth.  The obligation to provide a place to express milk shielded from view and intrusion from coworkers and the public, other than a bathroom, continues.

The PUMP Act expands protections by providing additional employees, including those who are salaried, the right to receive break time and a private place to pump at work.  Additionally, workers will now have protections up to two years following their child's birth, compared with the previous requirement of one year.

Employers should ensure that non-exempt nursing employees are paid if they express breast milk during an otherwise paid break period or if they are not completely relieved of duty for the entire break period. Exempt employees should be paid their full weekly salary as required by law, regardless of whether they take breaks to express breast milk.

The PUMP Act went into effect immediately and applies to employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act.  The PWFA applies to employers with at least 15 employees and becomes effective on June 27, 2023.  

Join Amy Vazquez for a one-hour webinar on Thursday, February 23rd at 12pm. Details and Registration.