New law benefits pregnant and breastfeeding workers

breastfeeding and pregnancy law in massachusetts

Massachusetts has become the most recent state to approve legislation guaranteeing protections for all pregnant and breastfeeding workers.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires employers to provide pregnant workers with “reasonable accommodations,” as well as a right to less strenuous duties and more frequent breaks and temporary transfers, as long as making the accommodations don’t cause the business “significant difficulty or expense.”

Workers also would have the right to take time off to recover from childbirth and be given a private space to express breast milk.

Signed by Governor Baker, and passed by the Massachusetts House and Senate, the new anti-discrimination law prohibits employers from discriminating or retaliating against someone because they are pregnant or because of a condition related to pregnancy, including lactation or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child. Employers are required to make good faith efforts “to determine effective reasonable accommodations” to allow employees “to perform the essential functions” of their job.

“Many employers already provide these types of accommodations for pregnant and breastfeeding workers,” says Joan Bates, a Vice President at Bates Insurance Agency. “This legislation is to assure all employers are doing their best to provide the necessary accommodations to pregnant and breastfeeding workers.”

How it works

Employers now will be required to give official notice to employees regarding the law’s new rights.

The act defines some reasonable accommodations as:

  • More frequent or longer paid or unpaid breaks.
  • Time off to recover from childbirth with or without pay.
  • Offering or modifying seating or equipment.
  • Job restructuring.
  • Light duty.
  • Private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk.
  • Assistance with manual labor and
  • Modified work schedule.

Although an employer may require documentation when a worker requests a reasonable accommodation, that’s not allowed if the employee’s request is for:

  • * More frequent restroom, food and water breaks;
  • * Seating and/or
  • * Limits on lifting more than 20 pounds.

Employers can refuse reasonable accommodations only if the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on their business because of the expense or significant difficulty in meeting the request.

The law outlines specific instances of determining an undue hardship for a business or employer.

These include:

  • The employer’s financial resources;
  • The size of the business with respect to the number of employees;
  • The number, type and location of facilities; and
  • The effect of the accommodation on expenses, resources and the business’s operation.

The employer has the burden to prove the undue hardship, if any dispute arises that leads to a legal or administrative proceeding.

Potential penalties for employers

Employers will face violations if:

  • They take adverse action against an employee who requests or uses a reasonable accommodation. This includes, but is not limited to, failing to reinstate an employee to their original or equivalent job with the same pay, accumulated seniority, retirement and fringe benefits.
  • They deny an employment opportunity to someone based on their need to make a reasonable accommodation related to a potential worker’s pregnancy or postpartum lactation for a nursing child.
  • They require an employee to take a leave of absence if another reasonable accommodation could be provided without undue hardship to the employer.
  • They refuse to hire someone who is pregnant because of the pregnancy or because of a condition related to a pregnancy.

The law will go into effect April 1st.

MA Law