The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Monday proposed a rule endorsing a broad application of a new federal law extending stronger legal protections to pregnant workers.
The EEOC proposal is designed to implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which took effect last month after President Joe Biden signed it into law late last year. The commission is tasked with enforcing the law.
The law requires companies to provide pregnant workers with reasonable accommodations such as limits on heavy lifting and more frequent breaks. Previously, federal law only required those accommodations if employers also gave them to workers with injuries or medical conditions.
The commission in Monday’s proposal listed a slew of accommodations that workers may seek under the law, including part-time or modified work schedules, more frequent breaks, modified equipment and uniforms, seating, remote work, and paid or unpaid leave.
Workers may also ask to be relieved of certain essential functions of their jobs, as long as they can resume performing them after a pregnancy, the EEOC said.
The proposal will be formally published on Friday, kicking off a 60-day public comment period.
EEOC Chair Charlotte Burrows in a statement encouraged feedback on how the proposal would impact workplaces and ways to assist employers and workers in understanding the law.
“This important new civil rights law promotes the economic security and health of pregnant and postpartum workers by providing them with access to support on the job to keep working, which helps employers retain critical talent,” she said.
The law applies not only to pregnancy but to childbirth and “related medical conditions.” In Monday’s proposal, the EEOC said that term applies to having an abortion, using birth control, menstruation, lactation, fertility treatments and miscarriage.
Some Republicans who voted against the PWFA said it should exempt religious employers to ensure they do not have to accommodate employees who have abortions.
Julie Marie Blake, senior counsel at conservative Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, accused the EEOC of “hijacking” the law to force employers to accommodate illegal abortions. She suggested that the proposed rule was invalid.
“The administration doesn’ have the legal authority to smuggle an abortion mandate into a transformational pro-life, pro-woman law,” Blake said in a statement.
The commission said that while the new law will guarantee important benefits to workers who are pregnant or recently gave birth, it will have little impact on employers.
In 2021, women between 16 and 50 years old comprised about one-third of the U.S. workforce, and less than 5% of them had given birth in the previous year, the EEOC said.