New Law Requires Most WA Employers to Provide Additional Protections to Pregnant Employees
A new law currently effective in Washington requires employers to provide greater employment protections for pregnant employees than existing law.
Effective July 23, 2017, Washington employers with 15 or more employees are now prohibited from:
Failing to make reasonable accommodations for an employee for pregnancy;
Taking adverse action against an employee who requests, declines, or uses an accommodation under the law;
Denying employment opportunities to an otherwise qualified employee if such denial is based on the employer's need to make reasonable accommodations required by the law; or
Requiring an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided for the employee's pregnancy.
The new law is part of a bill passed that primarily focuses on improving children’s health. The law provides more defined protections to pregnant employees than provided previously by Washington Disability Law or the Federal ADA. Washington employers should make necessary changes to practices and policies to ensure compliance.
Of note, the law defines reasonable accommodation as follows:
Providing more frequent, longer, or flexible restroom breaks;
Modifying a no food or drink policy;
Job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, or acquiring or modifying equipment, devices, or an employee's work station;
Providing seating or allowing the employee to sit more frequently if her job requires her to stand;
Providing for a temporary transfer to a less strenuous or less hazardous position;
Providing assistance with manual labor and limits on lifting;
Scheduling flexibility for prenatal visits; and
Any further pregnancy accommodation an employee may request, and to which an employer must give reasonable consideration in consultation with information provided on pregnancy accommodation by the department of labor and industries or the attending health care provider of the employee.
Can an employer claim "Undue Hardship" in responding to accommodation requests?
The law doesn't require an accommodation that would result in an "Undue Hardship" for the employer, which is defined as an action "requiring significant difficulty or expense." However, the law states that an employer may not claim undue hardship for number(s) 1, 2 and 4 from the list above or for limits on lifting over 17 pounds.
Employers are not required to create additional employment (e.g., a new position) that the employer would not have otherwise created unless the employer does or would do so to accommodate other classes of employees. The employer is also not required to discharge, transfer, or promote any employee unless the employee has taken or would take such an action to accommodate other classes of employees.
Contact UEA if you have any questions about how the new law will impact your workplace. We’re here to help!
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