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The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“the Act”), issued January 23, 2018, amends the Massachusetts law prohibiting discrimination in employment, M.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 and requires employers to accommodate pregnant workers.

Prior to the Act, both the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) had already provided certain protections to pregnant employees. The PDA requires that a covered employer treat women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions the same way it treats other applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.  This means that if an employer provides accommodations such as “light duty” or extended leave to other employees who have a limitation, it must also provide similar accommodations to employees with pregnancy-related limitations.   The PDA also protects pregnant workers from discrimination based on current, past, and potential pregnancy.

Under the ADA, pregnancy itself is not a disability. However, impairments related to pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, may be covered disabilities.  An employee with such a covered impairment related to pregnancy is protected from discrimination and entitled to a reasonable accommodation.

What new obligations do Massachusetts employers have on April 1st under the new Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

Unlike the ADA, the Act requires employers to accommodate workers who are pregnant or lactating regardless of whether there is an ADA-covered impairment present. This means that workers with a typical and healthy pregnancy may be entitled to reasonable accommodations.  The Act specifies that an employer cannot require medical documentation for certain accommodations: (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.

The Act requires employers to provide written notice to employees of these rights by April 1, 2018. Employers must also provide written notice of employees’ rights under the Act to new employees and to an employee who notifies the employer of a pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition.

This post does not address all provisions of the Act; please see the MCAD’s comprehensive guidance.  The full text of the law is available on the General Court’s website here.

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