Employer Alert: Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Signed by Governor Baker 

August 2, 2017

By: Kristen M. Whittle

Governor Baker recently signed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which will go into effect on April 1, 2018. The act expands the Massachusetts anti-discrimination law, Chapter 151B, to prohibit the discrimination against, refusal to hire, and the termination of individuals due to pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions at employers with six or more employees.

Reasonable Accommodations
Under the statute, an employer will be required provide reasonable accommodation for an employee’s pregnancy and related conditions, including the need to express breast milk, as long as the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship. The statute identifies such reasonable accommodations as including:

  • More frequent or longer breaks
  • Time off to attend to a pregnancy complication or recover from childbirth
  • Acquisition or modification of seating/equipment
  • Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position
  • Job restructuring, light duty
  • A private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk
  • Assistance with manual labor
  • A modified work schedule

Prohibited Practices
The statute will prohibit employers from taking adverse actions against a pregnant employee or an employee with a pregnancy-related condition who requests a reasonable accommodation and from denying an employment opportunity on the basis of the need for a reasonable accommodation. Employers will also be prohibited from requiring a pregnant employee to accept an accommodation that is not necessary to perform the essential functions of their job. In addition, the statute will prevent employers from requiring an employee to take a leave of absence if another reasonable accommodation may be provided without undue hardship. Nor can employers knowingly refuse to hire a person because of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition if the person is capable of performing the essential functions of the job with a reasonable accommodation.

Accommodation Requests and Required Documentation
When an accommodation is requested, an employer will be required to engage in an interactive process with the employee or prospective employee to determine an effective reasonable accommodation that will enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. In doing so, the employer may require documentation about the need for a reasonable accommodation from an appropriate healthcare professional, unless the requested accommodation is for:

  • More frequent restroom, food and water breaks
  • Seating
  • Limits on lifting over 20 lbs
  • A private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk.

Notification and Training
Employers will be required to provide all employees with written notice of their rights under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in an employee handbook, pamphlet or by other means. Therefore, employers are advised to update their anti-discrimination policies, and provide their supervisors and managerial staff with training regarding employees’ rights under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

 For more information or if you have questions, please contact Kristen Whittle at kwhittle@bartongilman.com or by phone at 401.273.7171.

Kristen M. Whittle is an experienced civil litigator who focuses her practice on employment law, insurance coverage and bad faith litigation, and products liability litigation. She actively practices in the courts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Kristen also regularly advises employers on all aspects of the employment relationship—from hiring through separation—and she frequently reviews and revises personnel policies and handbooks. Kristen has recently been named a 2017 Forty Under 40 honoree by the Providence Business News.