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New Mass. Law Raises Bar on Protections for Pregnant Workers

01/30/2018

--Continuing trend in other states, “reasonable accommodations” rule impacts businesses with six or more employees; more jurisdictions are likely to follow, Sandra Lynch advises in blog.

Beginning April 1, many Massachusetts employers will be required to provide “reasonable accommodations” for pregnancy and related conditions, including lactation and the need to express breast milk, notes Sandra Lynch, counsel in national law firm LeClairRyan’s Boston office. Businesses across the country should be on the lookout for similar laws, she adds.

“Companies doing business in Massachusetts should be aware of the nuances of the recently passed Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (MPWFA), which applies to all employers with six or more employees,” says Lynch, a member of the firm’s national labor and employment team. “It updates and expands upon existing state anti-discrimination statutes, making it unlawful to discriminate against a pregnant employee or an employee affected by a condition related to pregnancy.”

While the MPWFA is specific to employers operating in Massachusetts, “businesses nationwide should expect similar legislation,” she notes. “Currently, 22 other states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar legislation to prevent pregnancy-based discrimination and require employers to provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace. So even if your jurisdiction currently doesn’t have a law like this, there’s a good chance it will soon.”

Massachusetts employers should consider reviewing their company’s procedures to ensure they’re compliant with the newly updated and enhanced anti-discrimination statutes, Lynch writes in a recent post on the firm’s Workplace Defender blog, Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Takes Effect April 1, 2018.

In particular, the “reasonable accommodations” provision covers many situations, she notes.

“The MPWFA requires the employer to work with the requesting employee to engage in a timely, good faith interactive process to establish effective reasonable accommodations,” Lynch explains. “Some of the ‘reasonable accommodations’ suggested by the MPWFA include, but are not limited to: more frequent or longer unpaid breaks; time off to recover from childbirth with or without pay; acquisition or modification of equipment or seating; temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position; job restructuring; light duty; private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk; assistance with manual labor; and/or modified work schedules. An employer may deny a request for a reasonable accommodations only if the employer can prove that providing the accommodation will pose an undue hardship on the business. This exception is extremely narrow, however, and any decision to deny an accommodation should be very carefully considered.”

Beginning on April 1, employers will be required to notify all new employees of their rights pursuant to the MPWFA at the time of hire. Employers also must distribute a written notice of rights under the MPWFA to current employees by April 1. Before then, however, she recommends that employers begin taking steps to ensure that they are fully compliant, including:

  • notifying existing employees of their rights pursuant to the MPWFA;
  • designating a private non-bathroom space for employees to use for expressing breast milk;
  • updating any company handbooks or policies relating to pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions to incorporate MPWFA requirements, including the process for requesting a reasonable accommodation;
  • training human resources and other management personnel on the proper implementation and management of MPWFA requirements; and
  • designating a “point person” to handle any MPWFA related issues, including managing the reasonable accommodation process.

Read the full column here.