Congress has spent several months working on an omnibus spending package to cover the following year. The $1.7 trillion package significantly boosts spending on issues like child care and worker protections. Critically, it included two bills specifically intended to provide pregnant and nursing workers with more support: the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers (PUMP) Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which were included with bipartisan support.
These two acts significantly improve the rights of workers who are or have recently been pregnant nationwide. As federal laws, they apply to a wide variety of employers in every state, California included. Here’s what you need to know about the bills, how they compare to California laws, and what you can do to defend your new rights as a pregnant employee.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA)
The PWFA is one of the broadest federal protections for workers enacted in years. The PWFA provides workplace protections to pregnant workers nationwide. Inspired by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), the PWFA requires all employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers.
According to the PWFA, covered employers must “make reasonable accommodations for employees and job applicants with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, enabling them to continue working while maintaining a healthy pregnancy.”
This is a significant step forward for much of the nation. Previously, there were no federal protections for pregnant workers with health concerns. Under the PWFA, workers can request accommodations for the duration of their pregnancy to ensure that they remain healthy while carrying it to term.
However, California workers already receive all of the protections above. The state has classified pregnancy-related medical conditions as disabilities eligible for accommodations under FEHA. Workers who experience medical conditions that make doing their jobs more difficult are permitted to request reasonable accommodations such as altered schedules, modified duties, time off for medical appointments, and transfers to less strenuous roles.
However, this does not mean that the PWFA is not useful for California employees. It grants protections to employees who work for wide-reaching businesses that may not have five employees in California but have more than 15 workers nationwide. It also provides protections at the federal level for employees who may not qualify under California’s laws due to residency.
The PUMP Act
Nursing employees have been protected under federal law since 2010 when the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act was first passed. This bill granted covered employees rights such as:
- Reasonable break time to pump breastmilk
- Access to private, non-bathroom spaces in which to take lactation breaks
However, the original bill only covered about three in four breastfeeding employees. It excluded most exempt (salaried) workers, allowing their employers to continue requiring them to work without breaks. Unfortunately, exempt positions frequently pay better and offer more benefits than hourly roles. This means that the Break Time bill may have contributed to pushing mothers out of higher-earning roles.
The PUMP Act is intended to change this. This law is based on California’s pre-existing Labor Code to the extent that it provides almost identical rights. It expands coverage to all employees, with exemptions for airlines, railways, and small businesses who experience hardship meeting the requirements of private spaces. It also extends coverage to the first year of the child’s life, allowing nursing parents to continue breastfeeding for twelve months without risking retaliation.
This is important for both parents and children. Breastfeeding is less expensive than formula, so providing employees with protection to pump can assist them with the costs associated with newborns. It also offers new parents greater flexibility when returning to work since they do not need to worry about risking their roles as exempt employees if they need to take time to pump. Finally, it may provide better outcomes for the children themselves, as breastfeeding may be linked to more robust immune systems and healthier babies.
Defending Your Rights as a Pregnant Employee
The PUMP Act and the PWFA are critical steps to protect workers who can become pregnant. They demonstrate that federal legislators have begun to pay attention to the needs of parents. However, the new legislation does not mean that all companies will automatically comply. The laws give you the right to take legal action if you face employment discrimination for being pregnant or breastfeeding; it is up to you to take action.
The process is more straightforward than you may think. You can make the most of California protections for pregnant workers by:
- Documenting the discrimination. Keep records of when you face discrimination, such as having your request for accommodations denied, having your hours cut, or being fired.
- Talking to an employment law attorney. An experienced lawyer will help you determine if you have a case and guide you through protecting your rights.
- Filing a complaint with your employer. Your lawyer may recommend that you file a complaint with HR to document your complaint. This may be enough to resolve the problem if it is simply a lack of awareness.
- Notifying the California Civil Rights Department. If a complaint doesn’t solve the issue, you can inform the state about the discrimination.
- Taking legal action. After notifying the necessary parties, your attorney will help you take legal action to protect your right to work while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Make the Most of California Pregnancy Protections
The last time you want to lose employment is when you’re preparing for or welcoming a new child into your home. Today, both state and federal pregnancy protections are in place to help California workers maintain their jobs throughout their pregnancies. At Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP, we are dedicated to protecting the rights of expectant and new mothers in the workplace. We pride ourselves on providing skilled legal representation to clients like you who need to defend their rights. Learn more about how we can help you protect your right to fair employment while pregnant by scheduling your consultation today.