Effective April 1, 2018, for employers with six or more employees, Massachusetts’ prohibitions on discrimination in the workplace have been expanded to prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions. The Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act specifically makes it unlawful to discriminate against an employee based on lactation or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child. Further, if an employee requests an accommodation for pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition, an employer will be required to engage in a timely, good faith, “interactive process” to determine an effective, reasonable accommodation that enables the employee to be able to perform the essential functions of her position, just as an employer is required to do for an employee with a disability.
Reasonable accommodations under the new law include:
- more frequent or longer paid or unpaid breaks;
- time off to attend to a pregnancy complication or recover from childbirth;
- 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
- a modified work schedule.
Although employers are allowed to seek medical verification for certain types of accommodations, medical verification cannot be required for accommodations for:
- more frequent restroom, food, or water breaks;
- limits on lifting no more than 20 pounds; and
- private, non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk.
In-house counsel and employers should be sure to alert line managers and their human resources professionals of these requirements, to avoid inadvertent, on-the-spot refusal of appropriate and lawful requests for accommodation. This is also a good time to remind managers that retaliation against any employee seeking an accommodation in good faith is also prohibited, and that managers may be individually liable for a violation of this new law.