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Employment law: Impact of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

Most business owners are more than happy to make reasonable allowances for their employees. Even so, there are instances where a worker’s needs, or demands, exceed a company’s ability to accommodate him or her. One possible trouble spot in the future may relate to recent legislation passed by the House of Representatives. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act aims to protect pregnant workers in similar ways to the protections in place for employees with disabilities. However, if this becomes part of employment law it could place an undue burden on some companies here in Georgia.

The PWFA will require private companies with over 15 workers to make “reasonable accommodations” for any worker who is pregnant. Though there is language in the bill meant to help employers, what constitutes an “undue hardship” may mean something different to a worker than to a business owner. The proposed law also includes protection for people applying for jobs and forbids any sort of punishment for an employee who asks for accommodation.

Though the bill has wide support, the fear is that it could easily be misused, especially in the case of small businesses which may have less means to fulfill a pregnant employee’s request. Still, supporters point to a study that shows nearly two-thirds of workers say they’ve seen pregnant workers be discriminated against. The hope is that this legislation will give pregnant workers the means to ask for reasonable allowances. In the past, the pregnancy discrimination law only protected them against discrimination.

While this legislation is well-intended, if it passes it could have a significant and negative impact upon Georgia business owners. Business owners generally have no problem adjusting for the needs of employees, but doing so should not have to impact their bottom line. Those who have concerns may want to consult an employment law attorney who can advise them on the best way to proceed.