On July 27, 2017 Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed into law the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“MPWFA”), a bill which had unanimously passed in both the House and Senate. As discussed previously, the MPWFA (formerly H. 3816) ensures that pregnant workers or workers with pregnancy-related conditions (such as nursing) receive reasonable accommodations and protection from discrimination and retaliation under Mass. Gen. Laws Chapter 151B.
Although the MPWFA will not take effect until April 1, 2018, employers in the Commonwealth can begin now to prepare to implement the MPWFA’s new requirements. For instance, employers should consult with counsel as they begin to:
- Evaluate and revise their handbooks, paying special attention to adapting existing handbook provisions regarding anti-discrimination and retaliation, so as to explicitly incorporate pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions as protected categories;
- Consider current policies and practices pertaining to rest and meal breaks, pregnancy-related leaves, and reasonable accommodations, to consider what adjustments could be made for pregnant employees and employees with pregnancy-related conditions;
- Ensure that employees have access to private non-bathroom spaces for nursing or expressing breast milk, which the MPWFA considers to be a reasonable accommodation (and which is already required under federal law);
- Anticipate providing notice (by way of handbook, pamphlet, or other means) to current employees of the right to be free from discrimination in relation to pregnancy or a pregnancy related condition, as such notice must be provided on or before April 1, 2018;
- Prepare to implement a system such that employees who notify the company of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition will receive notice of their rights under the MPWFA within ten (10) days of having given notice.
It bears noting that while an employer may require documentation about the need for a reasonable accommodation from an appropriate health care or rehabilitation professional, an employer may not require documentation for the following accommodations: (i) more frequent restroom, food or water breaks; (ii) seating; (iii) limits on lifting over 20 pounds; and (iv) private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk.
The MPWFA also suggests that other reasonable accommodations may include unpaid time off to attend to a pregnancy complication or to recover from childbirth with or without pay; acquisition or modification of equipment; seating; temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position; job restructuring; light duty; assistance with manual labor; and modified work schedules. Employers should remember to engage in the interactive process of arriving at a reasonable accommodation with pregnant employees or employees with pregnancy-related conditions.