Last week, the Massachusetts House of Representatives passed the “Pregnant Workers Fairness Act,” a law designed to extend certain protections to employees who are pregnant or are new mothers. This Act provides protections similar to those provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act, and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees / new mothers, including allowing them to take more frequent bathroom breaks, drink water while at work, be provided a stool to sit on, and be provided a time and place to nurse. The Act also makes it illegal for employers to take an adverse employment action against a pregnant woman because she asks for a reasonable accommodation. The Act also prohibits employers from requiring a woman to take a leave of absence if another accommodation can be provided.
If passed, this Act will extend reasonable accommodation requirements to employees who do not meet the statutory definition of ‘disabled’ under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Under the proposed Act, employers must engage in an interactive process with their pregnant / new-mother employees to determine if a reasonable accommodation can be provided that would allow them to perform the essential functions of their job. As drafted, this new Act would be enforced by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination and would carry penalties similar to those found under chapter 151B, including emotional distress damages, punitive damages, backpay, frontpay, attorneys’ fees, and costs.
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