The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is a new law that was signed by President Biden last December 29, 2022 and into effect on June 27, 2023. This law requires covered employers to provide “reasonable accommodations” to a worker’s known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless the accommodation will cause the employer an “undue hardship.” How does this employment law affect surrogacy in the United States? This law will provide employment protection to working gestational surrogates during their pregnancies or after giving birth who live in the twenty states that do not have pregnancy discrimination laws.
While the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to accommodate disabled workers, there are gaps in the ADA when it comes to pregnant and postpartum workers. The ADA does not define pregnancy as a disability and pregnant women must show they have a separate disability under the ADA before they can request and receive accommodations from their employer.
The new PWFA protects employees and applicants of “covered employers” who have known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. “Covered employers” include private and public sector employers with at least 15 employees and employment agencies.
In passing the law, Congress provided some examples of reasonable accommodations: the ability to sit, or drink water; have closer parking and flexible hours; receive appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel; receive additional break time to use the bathroom, eat, and rest; leave or time off to recover from childbirth; and being excused from strenuous activities and/or activities that involve exposure to substances not safe for pregnancy. Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations unless they would cause an “undue hardship” on the employer’s operations. An “undue hardship” is significant difficulty or expense for the employer.
Guidance from the EEOC provides that covered employers cannot:
Require an employee to accept an accommodation without a discussion about the accommodation between the worker and the employer;
Deny a job or other employment opportunities to a qualified employee or applicant based on the person's need for a reasonable accommodation;
Require an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided that would let the employee keep working;
Retaliate against an individual for reporting or opposing unlawful discrimination under the PWFA or participating in a PWFA proceeding or investigation; or
Interfere with any individual’s rights under the PWFA.
The PWFA protects pregnant women and women who have given birth by requiring reasonable accommodations. Working surrogates can request accommodations so that they can continue to work while pregnant and avoid dangers to their pregnancy. This is a win-win for surrogates and the intended parents who hope that the surrogate is not subject to dangers at work while also paying for lost wages for when a surrogate is taken off work by their doctor.
This article is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon without additional research or consulting an attorney. This article is not legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship with the reader.