In an attempt to create new legal protections and remedies for individuals who are pregnant or nursing, Congress recently passed two acts, the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act) and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which will expand the number of nursing and pregnant workers granted protections, including school employees.
Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act
In 2010, the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act was signed into law, which required employers to provide nursing mothers a reasonable break time in a private and shielded place to express breast milk for a minimum of one year following the child’s birth. However, these requirements applied only to employees not exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s (FLSA) overtime pay requirement.
On December 29, 2022, President Biden signed the PUMP Act into law, which expands the rights granted by the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act to include exempt employees of covered employers. This change, which adds over nine million workers, will now grant all salaried employees, such as teachers, similar protections.
The PUMP Act, much like the Break Time for Nursing Mother Act, requires employers to provide (1) reasonable break time to express milk, and (2) a private location that is not a bathroom and that is shielded from view and free from intrusion. Additionally, the PUMP Act authorizes an aggrieved employee to bring a claim against an employer who violated the PUMP Act, as well as prohibits that employer from retaliation against the employee as a result of that claim. Furthermore, the PUMP Act has adopted all available remedies under the FLSA, such as reinstatement, promotion, payment of wages lost, and compensatory damages. The U.S. Department of Labor published a fact sheet that lays out additional information regarding the PUMP Act. For example, the fact sheet discusses how an employee may be compensated for break time to pump, whether that be through paid break time or being completely relieved from their duties. The DoL Fact Sheet can be found here.
Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
In addition to the PUMP Act, Congress passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which will go into effect June 27, 2023. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of Title VII, which is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), prohibits employers from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and requires an employer to treat pregnant employees in the same manner as other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. While this act does prevent discrimination against pregnant employees, it does not require an employer to comply with any accommodation requirements. This gap between the prohibited discrimination and lack of accommodation requirements has now been filled by the PWFA.
Under the PWFA, Congress has made it unlawful for an employer with 15 or more employees to:
- Require an employee to accept an accommodation without a discussion about the accommodation;
- Deny a job or other employment opportunities to a qualified employee or application based on the person’s needs for a reasonable accommodation;
- Require an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided that would allow the employee to continue working;
- Retaliate against an individual for reporting or opposing unlawful discrimination under the PWFA; and
Interfere with any individual’s rights under the PWFA.
These restrictions under the PWFA will protect employees and applicants of covered employers, which include schools, who have “known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” In addition to these restrictions, the PWFA noted that an individual may still be considered a qualified employee if the inability to perform an essential function is for a temporary period, the essential function can be performed in the near future, and the inability to perform the function could be reasonably accommodated.
Recent Litigation Surrounding Pregnancy Discrimination
Congress’ actions come following recent litigation where the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against a nursing and rehabilitation facility. The EEOC asserted that the facility had established policies requiring employees to inform the company when they were pregnant as well as obtain a note from their doctor releasing them to work without restrictions. The EEOC additionally alleged that the facility denied pregnant employees that had restrictions with reasonable accommodations and went so far as to terminate them, while other employees with similar restrictions were provided accommodations.
The suit, which was brought in June of 2021, came to a close April 12, 2023 with a decision finding in favor of the EEOC. The decision ordered the facility to pay $400,000 split between 11 employees, as well as issued a decree that would prohibit the facility from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy in the future, including denying pregnant employee’s modifications and a requirement that pregnant employees obtain a doctor’s note.
What does this mean for your district? To comply with the PUMP Act and the PWFA, districts should update their reasonable accommodation and nursing employee break policies to reflect the new requirements. Additionally, districts should designate an adequate space for employees to express breast milk that is in compliance with the PUMP Act, meaning the space must be (1) reasonable break time to express milk, and (2) a private location that is not a bathroom and that is shielded from view and free from intrusion.