Act ensures safety for pregnant firefighters from 27 June

Share this content


Introduction of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), a pioneering US federal law, will come into effect on June 27, 2023. This new law mandates employers to provide ‘reasonable accommodations’ to pregnant or postpartum employees, thereby enabling them to work safely. This legal update is anticipated to significantly support members of fire departments where specific policies for pregnant or postpartum workers may not be currently in place.

Employers’ responsibility and the role of employees

As Audrey Owczarzak, Secretary of Newport, KY Local 45 and member of the Elected Human Relations Committee, highlights, firefighters need to proactively request these adjustments. Despite the advent of this new legislation, employers are not expected to proactively suggest suitable accommodations.

The act, modelled after the American Disabilities Act (ADA), strictly prohibits employers from retaliating against employees requesting these accommodations. As attorney Tamara Imam elucidates, employers cannot engage in coercion, intimidation, threats, or any form of interference against employees making such requests, assuring their protection.

Examples of reasonable accommodations and the role of employers

The law outlines several potential accommodations including flexible working hours, appropriately sized uniforms, additional break time, and excusal from strenuous activities or exposure to potentially harmful compounds. Employers are required to negotiate in good faith with the employee over the feasibility of these accommodations. They may also request necessary documentation from the employee’s healthcare provider to assist with this process.

However, if an employer can demonstrate that complying with a request may result in ‘undue hardship’ to their business operations, they may refuse the accommodation.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: Implications and further discussions

Barbara Sellers, President of Shreveport, LA Local 514, emphasises the need for further discussions on what the act implies for firefighters and rescue workers. Key issues include potential effects of on-the-job exposures on the unborn child and the financial implications of reduced working hours. The new act intends to increase employer responsibility for employee welfare.

The Act provides recourse for violation of its provisions. After June 27, 2023, complaints can be lodged with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. As such, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act signifies a positive shift towards a safer and more accommodating working environment for pregnant and postpartum firefighters.

Receive the latest breaking news straight to your inbox