Last week, Senator Pat Jehlen (D-Somerville) and her colleagues in the Massachusetts Legislature passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which guarantees reasonable accommodations and safety measures for pregnant workers. The bill was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker on Thursday.
This legislation makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against, refuse to employ, or terminate an individual due to pregnancy or a condition related to pregnancy, including lactation or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child.
“Ensuring that employers are responsible for protecting the health of pregnant employees is not just compassionate, but commonsense and beneficial for both parties involved,” said Senator Jehlen. “This bill affirms our commitment to the well-being of working mothers, and to making sure that pregnant women are able to safely continue their valuable work.”
Reasonable accommodations may include time off to recover from childbirth; more frequent, longer paid or unpaid breaks; procuring or modifying equipment or seating; obtaining temporary transfer, job restructuring, or lighter duty; and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk, among others.
The law prohibits employers from taking the following actions against an employee who is pregnant or has a condition related to the employee’s pregnancy:
· Taking adverse action against an employee who requests or uses a reasonable accommodation;
· Denying an employment opportunity to an employee based on the need of the employer to make a reasonable accommodation;
· Requiring an employee to accept an accommodation if the accommodation is unnecessary to enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job;
· Refusing to hire a person who is pregnant because of the pregnancy or because of a condition related to the person’s pregnancy if that person can perform the essential functions of the job with a reasonable accommodation that does not impose an undue hardship on the employer.
The bill directs companies to engage in a collaborative, good faith process with employees and prospective employees to determine effective and reasonable accommodations. In specific instances, employers may require documentation pertaining to the need of accommodation from an appropriate health care or rehabilitation professional. This does not apply to accommodations for more frequent restroom, food or water breaks, seating, and limits on lifting over 20 pounds.
The bill will go into effect on April 1, 2018.