Earlier this week, Massachusetts House of Representatives voted unanimously to pass An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a law that would guarantee greater protections for pregnant women and nursing mothers. The legislation prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee because of “pregnancy or a condition related to pregnancy,” which is defined to include the need to express breast milk for a nursing child. It also prohibits employers from denying pregnant women and nursing mothers reasonable accommodations if requested by the employee unless it would impose an undue hardship upon the employer. The bill provides the following examples of such reasonable accommodations:
- More frequent or longer paid or unpaid breaks
- Time off to recover from childbirth with or without pay
- Acquisition or modification of equipment
- Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position
- Job restructuring
- Light duty
- Break time
- Private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk
- Assistance with manual labor
- Modified work schedules
In addition, employers may not refuse to hire a pregnant woman or nursing mother who is capable of performing the essential functions of the position with a reasonable accommodation or deny employment opportunities to an employee if such denial is based on the need to make a reasonable accommodation due to a pregnancy-related condition. Employers are also prohibited from requiring that a pregnant or nursing employee accept an accommodation if it is unnecessary to enable to her to perform the essential functions of the job.
The legislation also requires employers to provide notice of the right to be free from discrimination due to pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition, including the right to reasonable accommodations, to all employees and to any employee who notifies the employer of a pregnancy or related condition within ten days of such notification.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where it is expected to pass. Assuming the bill becomes law, it will go into effect on January 1, 2018. Employers should start evaluating their current policies now in preparation for making the necessary revisions to be in compliance with the Act.