New Protections for Pregnant Employees, Nursing Mothers Reinforce State Law
Two new federal laws protecting the rights of pregnant and lactating employees are on par with existing Connecticut law.
The Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act, effective Dec. 29, 2022, requires employers to provide break periods and a private area for expressing breast milk during work hours.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, effective June 27, 2023, mandates that employers provide reasonable accommodations for employees with limitations related to pregnancy and childbirth.
Though these federal statutes differ slightly from their Connecticut counterparts, they essentially bring federal law up to the standard already in place in Connecticut.
Break Periods for Breastfeeding
The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act adds a new section to the Fair Labor Standards Act, a federal law governing wage and hour requirements for employers with $500,000 or more in annual gross sales.
The new provision adds breastfeeding accommodations that require employers to provide two things:
- Reasonable breaks for employees to express breast milk for one year after their child’s birth, and
- Private lactation area, other than a restroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.
The lactation area may be a temporarily converted space, as long as it meets the privacy requirements of the law.
Remote workers are entitled to the same protections; in other words, they must be allowed breaks to express milk, and employers must provide privacy by allowing the workers to be off camera.
Lactation breaks may be unpaid, unless: (1) the employee performs any work during the break, such as reviewing email and voicemail messages; (2) the employee chooses to pump breast milk during already established paid break times; or (3) the employee is exempt.
Comparable Connecticut law, in effect since October 2021, includes similar mandates.
Connecticut law, however, does not limit the mandated lactation breaks to just one year after the employee’s baby’s birth.
Instead, state law allows an employee to express breast milk at work “at her discretion.”
Connecticut law also outlines additional requirements for the lactation area, including that it: (1) be situated near a refrigerator or employee-provided cooler; and (2) include access to an electrical outlet.
Perhaps the most significant difference between state and federally mandated lactation breaks pertains to the “undue hardship” exception.
In Connecticut, any employer may avoid the requirement to provide breaks and lactation rooms if it can establish that doing so would be an undue hardship for the business.
An “undue hardship” is any action that requires significant difficulty or expense, when considered in relation to the nature of the company’s operations, its size, and its financial resources.
This same exception is available under federal law, but only for employers with fewer than 50 employees. Thus, larger employers must always provide lactation breaks and resources.
Accommodations for Pregnant Workers
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is a non-discrimination statute that requires employers with at least 15 employees to make reasonable accommodations for employees with “known limitations” related to pregnancy and childbirth.
Unlike the Americans with Disabilities Act, this new statute does not require that the employee have a “disability” related to her pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes.
It simply requires that the employee have a physical or mental condition related to pregnancy or childbirth that has been communicated to the employer.
An employer must provide an accommodation unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business.
The statute does not define what, exactly, constitutes a “reasonable accommodation,” and the EEOC has until Dec. 29, 2023 to issue regulations in this regard.
In the meantime, however, the EEOC has provided several examples of potential accommodations, including the following:
- the ability to sit while working
- closer parking
- flexible hours
- appropriately sized uniforms and safety apparel
- additional bathroom and rest breaks
- a leave of absence to recover from childbirth
- light duty
Like the Americans with Disabilities Act, PWFA requires employers to engage in the interactive process with affected employees in order to arrive at an agreed upon reasonable accommodation.
An employer may not require an employee to take leave—whether paid or unpaid—if another reasonable accommodation can be provided.
Similar to the lactation rules discussed above, current Connecticut law has its own version of a reasonable accommodation requirement for pregnant workers.
The Fair Employment Practices Act, which applies to all employers in the state regardless of size, prohibits discrimination against pregnant and lactating workers, and specifically requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees, unless doing so would present an undue hardship.
In addition to the examples listed above, state law outlines the following potential accommodations:
- assistance with manual labor
- job restructuring
- modified work schedules
- temporary transfers to less hazardous work
While Connecticut businesses have been subject to these requirements to accommodate pregnant and lactating workers for some time, these new federal laws serve as a useful reminder for employers.
Take this opportunity to train managers, review and update your policies, and evaluate potential accommodations that could apply to your workplace.
HR problems or issues? Email or call CBIA’s Diane Mokriski at the HR Hotline (860.244.1900) | The HR Hotline is a free service for CBIA member companies.
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