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The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), in force since June 27, 2023, requires employers with 15 or more employees to accommodate pregnancy-related limitations. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released a 408-page final rule on April 15, 2024, implementing the PWFA, effective from June 18, 2024.

This post will recap some of the key points from the summary but focus on the distinctions with Connecticut’s existing law on the same subject.

First the highlights:

  • The PWFA covers a broad range of conditions related to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical issues, including abortion.
  • No specific severity threshold is required for accommodations.
  • Employers must accommodate temporary limitations, with a defined timeframe for pregnancy-related conditions.
  • Employers must engage in an interactive process upon receiving notice of the need for accommodation, with some adjustments tailored to the temporary nature of pregnancy-related conditions.
  • A non-exhaustive list of potential accommodations is provided, including frequent breaks and schedule changes.
  • Some accommodations are deemed reasonable by default, such as allowing water breaks or restroom breaks.
  • Employers should avoid unnecessary documentation requests and coercion related to accommodations.

As Connecticut employers should recall, Connecticut passed expansive changes to the pregnancy discrimination law in 2017 requiring employers to accommodate pregnant workers.

Through that law and guidance issued by the CHRO, there were a number of concepts that were formalized back then which you will see are fairly duplicative now of the federal law:

  • Workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions.
  • Workers are entitled to reasonable leaves of absence due to disability resulting from pregnancy.
  • Workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations and reasonable leaves of absences for any pregnancy-related condition or symptom.
  • Workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations for lactation needs.
  • Workers are entitled to confidentiality and an “employee may choose to keep any medical diagnosis confidential. Likewise, an employer should not directly contact the employee’s doctor without first obtaining the employee’s permission.”

Indeed, much has already been made of the EEOC’s definition of covered “related’ conditions as including abortion. But the CHRO guidance also discussed coverage for related conditions including the “loss or termination of pregnancy”. (You can view the CHRO guidance here). So, both laws will likely be interpreted in the same way.

The EEOC rule also makes it clear that an employer might need to temporarily eliminate an essential function of the job for up to forty weeks (or the typical length of a full-term pregnancy). This too, is fairly consistent with Connecticut’s rule that accommodations may include job restructuring or light duty work. Notably, the rule for pregnancy accommodation differs from an ADA analysis, where the inability to perform an essential function may be disqualifying, so employers should understand the differences with disability law.

Both the EEOC and Connecticut guidance also talk about the interactive process, which largely tracks the ADA process requirements. The EEOC encourages employers to respond promptly to employee requests and even to consider “interim” accommodation requests where a limitation appears rapidly. Connecticut doesn’t specifically mention this, but this difference appears modest in nature.

Both the EEOC and Connecticut guidance have a similar non-exhaustive list of accommodations that can be considered reasonable. The EEOC goes one step further by stating that four types of accommodations will be deemed to be reasonable, calling these “predictable assessments”. Thus, in virtually all cases, employers will need to grant them absent a showing of undue hardship. These include:

  • Allowing an employee to carry or keep water around the work area;
  • Allowing additional restroom breaks;
  • Allowing an employee to sit or stand;
  • Allowing an employee to take breaks to eat or drink.

The EEOC’s regulations do go a bit beyond Connecticut’s in limiting the situations in which documentation is required and explicitly prohibiting it for certain types of instances (such as when the employee is requesting one of the “predictable assessments” above). Thus, employers should exercise caution when seeking additional documentation in support of the pregnancy.

Overall, many of the requirements outlined by the EEOC will be familiar to employers in Connecticut. While some adjustments may be needed as to how employers should handle pregnancies and accommodations, most of these will be modest. Employers should seek legal counsel to review their policies. Employers with employees in other states should also review the impact these new regulations will have on any interaction with those state laws as well.