Two huge pieces of legislation have expanded the rights of mothers in the workforce this year, creating new obligations for employers and changing the game for millions of women and their companies. Prior to these laws, the Affordable Care Act only covered employees in positions non-exempt from minimum wage and overtime protections.
This June, after years of lobbying, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act went into effect, offering critical protections for working moms and creating new responsibilities for any company with 15 or more employees.
Prior to the PWFA, federal law required employers to offer accommodations for pregnant employees only if pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition resulted in a disability. Under the new law, employers must accommodate the pregnancy related needs of ALL pregnant and postpartum employees as long as:
- their inability to perform an essential function is for a temporary period.
- the essential function could be performed in the near future.
- the inability to perform the essential function can be reasonably accommodated.
Given that 72% of working women will become pregnant at some point while employed, the PWFA could impact nearly 2.8 million workers. Accommodation requests like longer breaks, better parking options, breast pumping solutions, and more will likely become commonplace, and employers will be held accountable for making these and other benefits available.
The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act has been in effect since April and has already changed what employers must provide to the working parents in their midst.
Simply put, PUMP guarantees nearly all workers nationwide the right to break time and a private space to express breastmilk during the workday, almost entirely closing the coverage gap that previously had left 1 in 4 women of childbearing age (nearly 9 million women) without these federal protections.
No more relegating mothers who are breastfeeding to restrooms or cars! Employers must now provide a clean space, shielded from view and intrusion, for all lactating employees. And, if an employee isn’t completely relieved from work duties during the pumping break, employers must count the pumping time as time worked when calculating minimum wage and overtime. Workers have the right to file a lawsuit for monetary damages if their rights under the law are violated.
What to Do Now
Both laws are already in effect to ensure that women can work successfully in the office during pregnancy and after. If you haven’t already, it is time to get your workplace up to speed.
1. LEARN ABOUT THE LAWS AND UPDATE RELEVANT POLICIES:
Spend time here and here familiarizing yourself with the nitty gritty of the two new laws. At the same time, survey the pregnant woman and working mothers in your midst and identify the kinds of supports they seem to need the most. Finally, when you have all that information in hand, review and update your company’s policies accordingly so that they are both legally compliant and meaningfully responsive. Make sure to include in your plan an effective “interactive process” that will enable employees to easily request specific, individualized accommodations. No two women will need exactly the same supports; your policies and procedures should be open-ended enough to reflect this and to help each employee to continue succeeding at work.
2. COMMUNICATE YOUR POLICIES INTERNALLY:
Even the most robust policy won’t mean a thing if your employees aren’t aware of it. Human Resources staff, supervisors, and other front-line employees must be educated about both the law and how to direct staff members toward the benefits you offer. And, the working mothers at your organization must know your company’s policies, procedures, and benefits so they can ask for and access the supports they need. Clear, consistent, constant communication throughout your organization is critical.
3. COMMUNICATE YOUR POLICIES EXTERNALLY:
Sharing your policies internally is only part of the job; you also need to advertise your policies publicly. When it comes to normalizing breastfeeding and pregnancy at the office, the movement is clearly underway. Especially in the wake of the Great Resignation, responsible employers need to be – and need to be seen at – the forefront of this effort. Get loud about the value your company places on working moms. Use your pregnancy and lactation policies as the important recruitment and retention tools they are. The more public you are about your organization’s family-friendly policies, the better off everyone will be.
Any way you slice it, both the PWFA and the PUMP Act mean big changes for the workplace. Start now to understand and embrace them fully. Change may bring obligation, but it also brings opportunity. You need to be ready on both fronts.