The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act took effect in June, outlining new accommodations for pregnant employees, including those at UNC.
Signed into law by President Joe Biden in December 2022, the PWFA requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” for workers with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth and other medical conditions.
Examples of reasonable accommodations include the ability to sit or drink water, additional break time to use the bathroom and time off to recover from childbirth.
“There’s still a lot of discrimination against people who are pregnant and new parents,” Sarah Verbiest, the director of the Jordan Institute for Families in the UNC School of Social Work, said. “That’s why I think this legislation is really important in showing support and giving rights to those folks.”
The PWFA will only require employers to provide accommodations if it does not cause them “undue hardship,” defined as any action requiring significant difficulty and expense to operations.
While the PWFA includes new accommodations for workers affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, it cannot replace more protective existing federal, state or local laws.
Over 30 cities and states in the U.S. have existing legislation that provides accommodations for pregnant workers, including North Carolina.
In February of 2020, Verbiest was invited to Washington, D.C., to educate legislators about the PWFA. She said many people were unaware of the lack of accommodations for pregnant workers in the workforce.
“We definitely found that a lot of the folks we spoke with just didn’t realize that some of the other pieces of legislation didn’t offer this protection,” she said.