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Federal Pregnancy and Lactation Accommodations Expanded

While federal employment law changes are generally few and far between, the budget bill that was just passed by Congress and signed by the President includes two sections that provide new protections for pregnant and lactating employees and applicants.

We’ll provide a deeper analysis, if needed, once we’ve had time to carefully review the final version of the law, but in the meantime, here are the highlights based on the publicly available bills.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Employers with 15 or more employees must now accommodate employees’ and applicants’ known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions unless it would create an undue hardship. Employers also cannot take any adverse action against an employee or applicant for requesting or using an accommodation.

Previously under federal law, employers generally only had to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees and applicants if they also provided accommodations to other employees who were similar in their ability or inability to work because of a medical condition or injury. Note that many state laws already went above and beyond federal law in requiring accommodations for pregnant employees.

This appears to take effect immediately, but aligns with best practices, so hopefully will not require a significant change in approach for most employers.

Lactation Accommodations

The “Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act,” or PUMP Act, expands the current federal requirements for providing employees with time and space to breastfeed or pump at work. Specifically:

  • Exempt employees are now covered by the law (previously only nonexempt employees were covered).

  • Employees must be allowed break time to express milk for up to two years (previously capped at one year) following a broader range of circumstances than just the birth of their own, live child.

  • Employees who work while expressing breast milk must be paid for that time and have it count toward their total hours worked (arguably this was already true, but now it’s crystal clear).

This law applies to employers of all sizes but (still) has an exception for employers with fewer than 50 employees if they can show that providing accommodations would cause an undue hardship.

These new requirements will take effect in approximately 120 days.

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