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What the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Means for Ohio Employees

A visibly pregnant worker closes her eyes to rest at her desk.

During pregnancy and after childbirth, you have rights under a new federal law.

Last month, an important new protection went into effect for workers in Ohio and across the country. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers as well as those who have recently given birth.

Since the PWFA is a new law, it remains to be seen how it will be enforced and interpreted by the federal courts. Our employment law attorneys are following this new legislation closely. Here’s what you need to know.

What does the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act do?

The PWFA requires covered employers to make reasonable accommodations – that is, changes to the work environment, processes, or methods – for employees who have limitations at work due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Some examples of reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers include:

  • Closer parking
  • Ability to sit or drink water
  • Ability to work from home
  • Flexible hours to accommodate prenatal medical appointments
  • Additional break time to eat, rest, or use the bathroom
  • Excusing the pregnant employee from physically strenuous activities, or activities that would expose them to substances that could negatively affect the pregnancy
  • Appropriately sized uniforms and safety gear

The PWFA also prohibits retaliation against workers who request pregnancy accommodations, both during hiring and during employment. It prohibits employers from requiring a pregnant employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can allow them to keep working. Employers also cannot require an employee to accept a pregnancy accommodation without discussion – that is, they can’t force an “accommodation” on you without talking about it with you first.

An employer is only excused from making reasonable accommodations if doing so would present an “undue hardship” – that is, it would be a significant cost for the employer. The onus is on the employer to prove that accommodating pregnancy would be an undue hardship.

The PWFA went into effect on June 27, 2023. As such, any requests for pregnancy accommodation made on or after that date at covered employers are legally protected.

How the PWFA interacts with existing employment laws

It’s important to note that the PWFA does not replace existing state and federal laws that protect pregnant workers.

At the federal level, pregnancy discrimination is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which applies to all employers with 15 or more employees (that is, the same employers covered by the PWFA). This law prohibits employers from treating workers differently on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. An employer can’t take pregnancy into account when making decisions on hiring, promotions, raises, and other employment actions. Employers also cannot allow employees to be harassed on the basis of pregnancy. However, this law applies to discrimination and harassment; it doesn't explicitly require reasonable accommodations.

Ohio employees also have protections against pregnancy and childbirth discrimination under state anti-discrimination laws, which apply to all employers with four or more employees. Like the Civil Rights Act, the Ohio anti-discrimination law only applies to discrimination and harassment.

Furthermore, covered employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, pregnancy in and of itself is not considered a covered disability under the ADA. Some types of pregnancy complications and related medical conditions may be covered by the ADA, but pregnancy accommodations in general are not required by the ADA.

Eligible employees can also take pregnancy- or childbirth-related leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but the FMLA only provides unpaid leave, not other types of accommodations that may allow a pregnant employee to keep working (and keep earning).

As such, the PWFA plays an important role for Ohio employees by specifically requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations for workers during pregnancy and after childbirth. It's intended to help employees to continue their careers as they navigate the process of starting or expanding a family.

Our employment law attorneys stand up for pregnant workers

Again, the PWFA is a new law, so we expect some confusion among Ohio employers and employees as they navigate its new provisions. If you need to request pregnancy accommodations in the workplace or are facing discrimination or retaliation because you need reasonable accommodations, our attorneys are prepared to protect your rights under federal and state law. Contact us today for a free case evaluation with the legal team at Gibson Law LLC.

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