On October 2, 2017, Massachusetts Governor, Charlie Barker, signed into law an amendment to the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Act that reinforces what federal and Massachusetts state judges have long held – that pregnancy discrimination is “discrimination because of sex” and is prohibited under both Title VII and Massachusetts law. However, the law goes farther, specifically with regard to notice requirements, and significantly expands the scope of disability accommodations related to pregnancy. The law requires that employers notify all new and existing employees of their right to be free of pregnancy discrimination and their rights under the law and requires re-notification to the employee when the employee discloses a pregnancy to an employer.
The most significant changes in the law are the disability-related provisions requiring accommodation for all pregnancies, not just those pregnancies that cause an otherwise recognized disability. The law mandates that employers make four specific pregnancy accommodations – (1) more frequent bathroom, food and water breaks, (2) seating accommodations, (3) limits on lifting more than 20 pounds, and (4) private space for expressing milk – and prohibits the employer from requiring medical documentation before granting these accommodations. The law also provides examples of other possible accommodations, including: frequent or longer breaks, temporary transfer to a less strenuous position, job restructuring, light duty, assistance with manual labor, modified work schedule, and time off to recover from child birth.
In preparation for the implementation of the new law, Massachusetts employers should prepare the appropriate notice that must be distributed to all new and existing employees by April 1, 2018, revisit disability accommodation policies, and train management and supervisors to the new notice and accommodation requirements.