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Pregnant Workers Fairness Act UPDATE

The EEOC has issued final rules clarifying how the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“PWFA”) is implemented. Those rules go into effect on June 18, 2024. These regulations clarify the availability of accommodations for limitations arising out of pregnancy, childbirth, and associated conditions.  

Employers don’t have to grant every accommodation request, just those accommodations that are “reasonable.” Without getting into a long discussion of how “reasonableness” is determined by legal decisionmakers, suffice it to say that accommodation requests often get watered down or negotiated out of existence.  These guidelines help set a baseline.

Predictable Assessments: The new rules are exciting because they propose four accommodations that are presumed reasonable—meaning that, if the employer wants to deny them, the employer has to prove that they aren’t reasonable. Those accommodations are: 1) keeping water nearby and breaks for drinking (for example, having a water bottle); 2) additional restroom breaks; 3) allowing standing, sitting, and alternating positions; and 4) allowing additional eating/drinking breaks. These accommodations are called “predictable assessments.”  


Limits on seeking additional documentation: Employers should not be seeking additional documentation in the following circumstances:  1) The need to adjust the workplace is obvious (for example, needing a larger uniform); 2) The employee has already provided sufficient information; 3) The employee is requesting one of the predictable assessments; 4) The employee requests time to pump or nurse; or 5) Non-pregnant or nursing employees would not be required to provide documentation for the same accommodation. 


New York Workers: Meanwhile, New York Pregnancy protections are gearing up. On June 19, 2024, New York employees will be entitled to a paid[1] 30-minute lactation break “each time such employee has reasonable need to express breast milk for up to three years following child birth.” While some employers are already wringing their hands about how often the need to pump might be “reasonable,” there is similar language in the FLSA (“a reasonable break time…each time such employee has need to express milk…”) 29 U.S.C. §218d (a)(1). Additionally, under New York’s Paid Prenatal Leave, on January 1, 2025, pregnant New York workers will be entitled to 20 hours of paid prenatal leave per calendar year, at the regular rate of pay, to be used to attend prenatal doctor’s appointments. This leave is in addition to New York statutory paid sick leave.  


Always contact a reputable workplace rights attorney to understand how new developments affect your rights! 


[1] This beats out the Federal PUMP Act, which only requires unpaid leave, unless the employee is not completely relieved from duty during the pump break.

Federal Protections for Pregnant Workers Under the PWFA


This is the 1-year anniversary of the passage of the Federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act [“PWFA”], which went into effect on June 27, 2023. The EEOC has issued guidance on how it works, and final rules are due out any minute. What should employees know?


The PWFA prohibits employers from requiring employees to take leave if another accommodation would let them keep working, denying employment opportunities on the basis of the need for a reasonable accommodation, and interfering with or retaliating against employees who are exercising their PWFA rights.


The PWFA requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to workers with limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Unlike previous pregnancy discrimination statutes, these requirements apply even if the pregnancy is uncomplicated or the limiting condition existed prior to the pregnancy. Additionally, an employee who is “temporarily” unable to perform the essential functions of the job is still considered “qualified” to do the job if they could perform the essential functions “in the near future.” No one knows exactly what these terms mean, so we’re waiting for the  regulations to give some indication.


Employers only have to accommodate “known limitations,” which means if you don’t tell the boss about the limitation, and they can’t see it, they don’t have to accommodate it. Technically, you don’t have to say “PWFA,” but it might be good idea to use the term to make sure the HR person knows what you’re talking about. Also, while there is some duty for the employer to detect obvious limitations, you shouldn’t count on the boss going out of his way to allow you to sit/stand or take frequent breaks if you don’t explain why you need them.


The EEOC says that four accommodations should be almost always granted: carrying and drinking water as needed, additional bathroom breaks, sitting and standing, and breaks to eat and drink. The key word here is “almost.” Remember, “reasonable” means that the accommodation does not impose an “undue hardship” on the employer, so if the requested accommodation is going to cost a lot of money or be disruptive to operations, it might not be considered “reasonable.”


Do some of these requirements sound familiar? That’s because in some cases, pregnant workers had protections under Title VII and the ADA (as well as various state and local laws). But the PWFA enhances, broadens, and clarifies those protections.


This is a new law with new regulations, so contact a reputable workplace attorney to make sure you have up to date information about your rights under the Federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act!

Meet Margaret!

Meet our Spring 2024 intern, Margaret Grinnell, who is a part of Professor Grant Reeher’s Political Science Internship course at Syracuse University. Margaret is in her final semester at Syracuse, studying International Relations, and is drawn to areas of civil law.

Margaret has had the opportunity to volunteer for the Central Virginia Legal Aid Society in her hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. In this role, she completed paralegal work in the family law division, helping to support attorneys provide free legal assistance to low-income clients. At Syracuse, she completed a research assistantship with the Muslim Family Law Index Project, assessing legal reform in fifty-three countries. Through these experiences, Margaret gained a passion for legal accessibility and research.

At Satter Ruhlen Law Firm, Margaret is learning about the continuing evolution of labor law legislation, and is developing an interest in advocating for employee rights. She has observed depositions, interacted with clients, and participated in discussions of case law. Different from her previous experiences, at Satter Ruhlen, Margaret has gained a new perspective in the legal field, researching and learning about how employees and unions are protected under the law.

Margaret says her experience at Satter Ruhlen has given her clarity and confidence in her plans to move forward with a career in law. She notes, “Observing the diverse caseload at the firm has allowed me to understand different legal procedures which has enriched my legal understanding.”

We’ve certainly enjoyed having Margaret with us this semester, and we’re excited to watch her pursue a legal career!



Speaking Up On Behalf Of Your Coworkers


Your employer probably does not welcome your advocating for your colleagues. Whether your advocacy is protected or not depends on what you are discussing, how you say it, and how many other employees it involves.

This is an area of law that flip-flops every few years, so make sure you speak to a reputable workplace attorney!!!

A recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board has expanded the protections for your workplace discussions. It’s complicated, but you may have the right to talk with other employees or the boss about things like workplace safety, your wages, the schedule, or other terms and conditions of employment for the purposes of “mutual aid and protection.” “Mutual aid and protection” is one of those legal phrases that has a special meaning, so you’ll definitely need to speak with a lawyer to know whether a particular comment is protected. Generally speaking, if your comment to coworkers is intended to initiate or prepare for group action, or to bring group complaints to management’s attention, it may be protected.

Discussions that only involve your individual circumstances are not protected.  And not every remark made in a group setting is protected. And even if your remark turns out to be protected, it may take months or years of litigation to ascertain that it was protected – during which time you are probably going to be looking for a job.

That said, Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act gives many private-sector workers a federally-protected right to engage in protected concerted activity for the purposes of mutual aid and protection, and they don’t have to be in a union to exercise that right.

If your boss is on your case for a remark you made about a concern shared by your coworkers, talk to a workers’ rights attorney. It may turn out you have some protection.



Illegal Mandatory Overtime for New York Nurses


Imagine you’re an LPN working at a nursing home, and you haven’t had a day off in two weeks. The nursing home is short-staffed. Management says they’re trying to hire, but you don’t see them trying very hard.  You need the job, so you keep on working. And working. And working.  You need to take your child to the dentist, there is a mountain of laundry, and you really need to get snow tires.  And you need a nap! But there’s no time, because they keep scheduling you for back-to-back shifts.

Now, imagine you’re coming to the end of yet another double. You put in for time off three weeks ago. You’re really looking forward to that nap!

Then the scheduler announces that you are being mandated for overtime. Your heart sinks. No time now for the dentist. No laundry, no snow tires. No nap! You have a feeling that something isn’t right, but you’re not sure who can do anything about it. What’s a nurse to do?

Good news:  the New York State law on mandatory overtime for nurses has been amended. Employers are not allowed to require mandatory overtime for nurses except in emergency situations – defined as a health care disaster, a state of emergency, an unforeseen emergency that the employer could not plan for, or during a medical procedure where the nurse is needed. Note that emergency situations do not include chronic staffing shortages! This law applies to registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical nurses (LPNs).

The amendment sets up civil penalties for violations, as well as requiring the employer to pay an additional 15% of overtime to the nurse. These penalties only kick in after the New York State Department of Labor completes an investigation and concludes that the law was violated. Nurses who believe that their employers are violating the mandatory overtime protections should speak with their union representative or a New York State workplace lawyer.

And then they should take a good long nap.

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