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Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act, the ADA, and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act Explained

By Debra Milstein Gardner - May 16, 2024 10:41:15 AM - 5 MINS READ

In a significant move towards workplace equity, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has introduced regulations to implement the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). Effective June 18, 2024, these regulations mandate that employers provide reasonable accommodations not only for pregnancy but also for related medical conditions. Here's a concise guide for employers on navigating these new requirements and understanding how they compare to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 503).

Understanding Accommodations Requirements: The PWFA specifically addresses the need for accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. It broadens the scope of accommodations, encompassing a wide range of pregnancy-related conditions such as morning sickness, endometriosis, and even miscarriages or abortions. It mandates that employers provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees, such as modified work schedules, additional breaks, or facility accessibility modifications. The PWFA regulations depart from traditional accommodation laws in several ways. Notably, employers cannot mandate leave as an accommodation if other reasonable alternatives exist. Additionally, the PWFA allows for the temporary suspension of essential job functions as a form of accommodation.

Section 503 and the ADA both require applicants or employees to meet the essential job functions, with reasonable accommodations provided to enable individuals with disabilities to perform these functions. These laws emphasize the importance of ensuring equal opportunities in employment while recognizing that accommodations may be necessary for individuals with disabilities to effectively carry out job responsibilities.

Importantly, neither the PWFA nor Section 503 have a requirement for medical conditions to meet a specific severity threshold; however, the ADA does. [Refer to the OutSolve blog, Understanding Undue Hardship: Affirmative Defense in Reasonable Accommodation Requests]

Engaging in the Interactive Process: Like the ADA and Section 503, the PWFA necessitates an interactive process between employers and employees to determine reasonable accommodations. Upon an employee's request, employers must engage promptly, considering accommodations that may include modified work schedules, additional breaks, or facility accessibility modifications. Under the ADA and Section 503, this process involves a discussion between the employee or applicant, their health care provider, and the employer about the disability and any limitations that may affect the employee's ability to perform their job duties.




While the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act have distinct focuses, they share common goals of promoting workplace equity and accommodating individuals with specific needs. The PWFA specifically addresses accommodations for pregnancy-related conditions, the ADA ensures accommodations for individuals with disabilities, and Section 503 extends these protections to federal contractors and subcontractors.

Employers can set up systems to handle all three by establishing comprehensive accommodation policies and procedures that align with the requirements of each law. This includes:

  1. Educating management and HR personnel on the provisions of each law and the accommodation process.
  2. Implementing clear and accessible channels for employees to request accommodations, whether related to pregnancy, disability, or federal contractor status.
  3. Creating a supportive workplace culture that values inclusivity and respects the rights of all employees.
  4. Regularly reviewing and updating accommodation policies to ensure compliance with evolving legal standards.
By proactively addressing the accommodation needs of pregnant workers, individuals with disabilities, and federal contractor employees, employers can foster an inclusive and equitable work environment that benefits everyone involved.

Debra Milstein Gardner

Debra Milstein Gardner has worked in the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and Affirmative Action (AA) space for the past 43 years while working in the public and private sectors in various human resources compliance roles. She began her career working for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then went to the Marriott Corporation for nine years working in EEO, Affirmative Action and field human resource roles. In 1990, Debra founded Workplace Dynamics LLC providing EEO, AA, and DEI consulting services to government contractors. In 2016, Debra sold the affirmative action portion of Workplace Dynamics to OutSolve LLC and works part-time as a Market Analyst. Debra is a sports fanatic, routing for the Baltimore Ravens and all Virginia Tech Hokie teams. She loves to hike and boat in her mountain and lake community of Lake Lure, NC.

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