Columnist Norris Cunnigham discusses infection control penalties.

Q: I read about a new federal law to protect pregnant workers. Are existing protections in discrimination law  not good enough? 

A: You are referring to the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which was signed by President Biden in 2022 and became effective in late June 2023.  

The PWFA requires employers with 15 or more employees to make “reasonable accommodations to the known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions of a qualified employee unless the employer can demonstrate undue hardship.” 

 The PWFA is modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act in determining if a reasonable accommodation can be made. The interactive process can vary from a more formal process to simple, informal communications typically used by smaller employers. 

Organizations as diverse as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Conference of Catholic Bishops strongly support the law so that pregnant employees can work for as long as they want and  are able to do so, safely.

The Economic Policy Institute estimates that 81% of LTC workers are women. Given this, I believe the law will have a significant impact. The law states employees can request changes to their essential job duties since a “qualified employee” is defined as one who can perform the essential duties of the job with or without accommodation. 

Unlike the ADA, under the PWFA, if a worker cannot perform the essential job duties, they may still be entitled to an accommodation so long as the limitation or inability is temporary and can be done reasonably. Given the well-documented nursing shortage, one can expect real challenges for employers in complying with the PWFA while maintaining necessary control of labor costs.