Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination Guidance: Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“the Act”) amends the current statute prohibiting discrimination in employment, G.L. c. 151B, §4, enforced by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). The Act, effective on April 1, 2018, expressly prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions, such as lactation or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child. It also describes employers’ obligations to employees that are pregnant or lactating and the protections these employees are entitled to receive. Generally, employers may not treat employees or job applicants less favorably than other employees based on pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions and have an obligation to accommodate pregnant workers.
Under the Act:
- Upon request for an accommodation, the employer has an obligation to communicate with the employee in order to determine a reasonable accommodation for the pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition. This is called an “interactive process,” and it must be done in good faith. A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment that allows the employee or job applicant to perform the essential functions of the job while pregnant or experiencing a pregnancy-related condition, without undue hardship to the employer.
- An employer must accommodate conditions related to pregnancy, including post-pregnancy conditions such as the need to express breast milk for a nursing child, unless doing so would pose an undue hardship on the employer. “Undue hardship” means that providing the accommodation would cause the employer significant difficulty or expense.
- An employer cannot require a pregnant employee to accept a particular accommodation, or to begin disability or parental leave if another reasonable accommodation would enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job without undue hardship to the employer.
- An employer cannot refuse to hire a pregnant job applicant or applicant with a pregnancy-related condition, because of the pregnancy or the pregnancy-related condition, if an applicant is capable of performing the essential functions of the position with a reasonable accommodation.
- An employer cannot deny an employment opportunity or take adverse action against an employee because of the employee’s request for or use of a reasonable accommodation for a pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition.
- An employer cannot require medical documentation about the need for an accommodation if the accommodation requested is for: (i) more frequent restroom, food or water breaks; (ii) seating; (iii) limits on lifting no more than 20 pounds; and (iv) private, non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk. An employer, may, however, request medical documentation for other accommodations.
- Employers must provide written notice to employees of the right to be free from discrimination due to pregnancy or a condition related to pregnancy, including the right to reasonable accommodations for conditions related to pregnancy, in a handbook, pamphlet, or other means of notice no later than April 1, 2018.
- Employers must also provide written notice of employees’ rights under the Act: (1) to new employees at or prior to the start of employment; and (2) to an employee who notifies the employer of a pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition, no more than 10 days after such notification.
The foregoing is a synopsis of the requirements under the Act, and both employees and employers are encouraged to read the full text of the law available on the General Court’s website here: https://malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2017/Chapter54.
If you believe you have been discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition, you may file a formal complaint with the MCAD. You may also have the right to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if the conduct violates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Both agencies require the formal complaint to be filed within 300 days of the discriminatory act.
Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination
Boston Headquarters: One Ashburton Place, Room 601, Boston, MA 02108 | (617) 994-6000
Springfield: 436 Dwight Street, Room 220, Springfield, MA 01103 | (413) 739-2145
Worcester: 484 Main Street, Room 320, Worcester, MA 01608 | (508) 453-9630
New Bedford: 128 Union Street, Suite 206 New Bedford, MA 02740 | (774) 510-5801