Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Advances Out of Committee with Some Employer Concerns Addressed

January 24, 2020

A House committee advanced a bill that would require companies to provide “reasonable workplace accommodations for workers whose ability to perform the functions of a job are limited by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.”

The bill passed by the House Education and Labor Committee would make it an unlawful employment practice to: 

  • Fail to make reasonable accommodations to the known limitations related to the pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions unless that accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business;

  • Require a worker limited by such conditions to accept an accommodation, if the accommodation is unnecessary to enable the applicant or employee to perform her job;

  • Deny employment opportunities to a job applicant or employee, if based on a need for such accommodations;

  • Require an employee to take leave, whether paid or unpaid, if another reasonable accommodation can be provided; or

  • Retaliate against an employee on account of the employee requesting or using such reasonable accommodations.

The bill is motivated by concerns regarding the failure of pregnancy and related conditions to be considered a “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Without designating those conditions as disabilities, the bill seeks to provide similar protections as those under the ADA.

Several amendments were made to attract business support.  These include adopting an “employer-employee interaction process,” which is also used under the Americans with Disabilities Act, in order to arrive at a reasonable accommodation that an employee must use.  Further, employers would not be liable if they are able to demonstrate good faith efforts during reasonable accommodations negotiations with an employee.  With these changes, the business community is not expected to oppose the measure and some groups will support it.

The bill builds on the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits pregnancy-based discrimination in hiring, firing, pay, job promotion, and fringe benefits decisions.

Looking ahead:  It is unclear whether the changes will be able to attract enough Republican support to pass the Senate.  However, willingness to compromise in the first place may signal a welcome thawing of partisan tensions—at least in certain areas.