The PWFA and Pump Act: Am I in Compliance?

PWFA and PUMP Acts
min read
February 28, 2023

As a small business owner, you want to make sure all your employees feel good about coming to work. And when a team member goes through a major life change–like having a baby–you might be wondering what, exactly, you can do to help them feel comfortable at the office.

Congress has some answers. They recently passed two new laws to help new and expecting moms in the workplace.

Called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA Act) and the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act), these laws include protections for lactating and pregnant employees.

We'll dive deep into what you need to know as a business owner–so that you can comply with these workplace protections and make sure your new and expecting moms feel great in the workplace.

So, let's get started!

What is the PWFA Act?

Effective June 27, 2023, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) guarantees that new and expecting moms get reasonable accommodations in the workplace. That way, they can stay healthy and still do the essential functions of their job, just like workers with disabilities. 

In other words, employers can't fire workers, demote them or otherwise penalize them because they need extra support when they're pregnant or postpartum. 

So what, exactly, is a reasonable accommodation under the PWFA?

Workers can ask for things like:

That being said, a reasonable accommodation could be a number of things, depending on your industry, company size, the employee's needs, and their job duties. 

The law requires you to go through an "interactive process," which is essentially discussing the accommodation. You can do this in person, over the phone, or even via email. The key is to keep communication open and make a genuine effort to meet their needs.

Some other important provisions in the PWFA include:

This PWFA is an extension of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which protects workers from discrimination based on a person's disability.

What Businesses Must Comply with It?

Businesses with 15 or more employees are required to comply with the PWFA.

What Employees Does It Apply to?

Exempt and nonexempt workers, and job applicants.

Are There Any Exceptions?

A business can deny an accommodation to a new or expecting mom if it would cause undue hardship to the company. What is that, exactly? An undue hardship is a situation where providing an accommodation would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer. 

For example, a small construction company with a limited budget has a pregnant worker who requests to be transferred to an indoor office position due to the physical demands of her current role. 

However, the company may not have the financial resources to hire additional workers to compensate for the pregnant worker's absence, which could create an undue hardship for the company. 

In this case, the company may need to explore other accommodations that would work for both the worker and the business, such as providing additional safety equipment, reducing the worker's workload, or providing more frequent rest breaks.

How Long Do These Protections Last?

Two years following birth.

How Do I Comply with the New Law?

Now that you understand all the important provisions of the PWFA, what practical steps can you take to make sure you're in compliance? Here are a few helpful tips:

What is the PUMP Act?

Effective as of December 29, 2022, the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act requires employers to provide lactating and nursing employees with a private, non-bathroom space and breaks to express breast milk—for up to two years after a child's birth.

If this law sounds familiar to you, it should! A version of it has been around since 2010 under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), but now, the PUMP Act:

How long are Pump Breaks?

Employees must be given reasonable break time–i.e., enough to express milk. This can vary from person to person—some lactating or nursing workers may only need 15 minutes, while others may need 30 minutes or more. 

Do Employees Get Paid when Expressing Breast Milk?

If an employee is not completely relieved from duty during their pump break, then any time spent expressing breast milk should be considered hours worked and compensated accordingly. 

Who Is Required to Follow It?

Small businesses with 50 employees or more must comply with these new protections. 

Businesses with fewer employees aren't required to follow the PUMP Act if it would cause undue hardship. These cases are extremely rare—so, most likely, you'll need to comply with PUMP.

Another reason you may need to comply? Businesses with 15 or more employees are required to follow other regulations for new and expecting moms—like the PWFA, which requires lactation accommodations.

Which Employees Does It Apply To?

The PUMP Act applies to all your exempt and nonexempt workers.

There are some exceptions, like rail carrier and motorcoach employees won't get these protections for another three years. 

Also, airline flight crew members, including flight attendants and pilots, are not currently covered by the law. Though not technically qualified employees, they may still have the need for such accommodations. Consider providing lactation accommodations voluntarily to show your commitment to supporting working parents.

Are There Any Exceptions?

Employers of all sizes can get an exemption for providing lactation breaks and space when doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense (i.e., undue hardship), but it's important to note that undue hardship is rare.

How Can We Comply with It?

The PUMP Act is most likely something many businesses are used to since it's been law for some time, though there have been some updates. Follow these steps to make sure you stay in compliance:

What Happens if I don't Comply with the PWFA or PUMP Act?

The penalties for businesses that do not comply with the PWFA or PUMP acts will vary depending on the severity of the violation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Labor (DOL), and/or state and local employment practices agencies can investigate a company for failing to provide accommodations.

Though the details aren't clear yet, you can generally except to face legal action and be required to pay fines, make changes to your facilities or practices to become compliant with the law, and provide compensation to victims of discrimination. Repeat or egregious violators may also face higher penalties, such as increased fines or even criminal charges.

Want to make sure to cover all your bases? Seek legal advice on whether your specific policies are up to date and in compliance with employment law. 

Make Supporting New and Expecting Mothers a Priority at Your Workplace

After all this information, you may be wondering how to best support your pregnant and lactating employees while running your business. The main thing to remember is to listen to their needs—and make it a priority to meet them.

Not only will that keep you in compliance with the new (and updated) laws, but it will also send a message to all your team members that they can grow their families comfortably at your company. In the end, that will encourage them to stay on board and keep your business staffed with loyal, experienced team members.

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