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As I’ve previously talked about, two new federal laws protecting pregnant workers and nursing employees are now in effect (with the protections for pregnant workers taking effect on June 27, 2023).

I want to use this post to talk about: the implications for employers in states like Connecticut that already have protections under state law; how these laws interact with each other; and what steps employers should take as a result.

Recap of Two New Federal Laws

First, The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) requires employers with at least 15 employees to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees, absent an undue hardship (with an analysis similar to the ADA). Notably, this protection even applies to employees who cannot perform the essential functions of their job for a “temporary period” and they are expected to be able to restart it in the “near future”. It went into effect June 27, 2023.

The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act) amends the federal wage/hour law and requires employers to provide a reasonable break time for employees to express breast milk for one year after the birth of a child and a place (other than a bathroom) that has some privacy. The law is not specific as to the frequency or duration of the break. This law does not apply to employers with less than 50 employees if compliance would cause an undue hardship.

Both laws apply to employers nationwide (so long as they meet the criteria) so employers with offices or employees in multiple states need to be sure to update their policies to ensure compliance.

Connecticut Law

As I’ve noted in prior posts, Connecticut already has protections for pregnant workers that exceed the federal law requirements. State law covers employers with three or more employees. Among the requirements: An employer must provide reasonable accommodations to an employee or job applicant due to her pregnancy, childbirth, or needing to breastfeed or express milk at work.

Connecticut has outlined that reasonable accommodations include but are not limited to:

  • Being permitted to sit while working
  • More frequent or longer breaks
  • Periodic rest
  • Assistance with manual labor
  • Job restructuring
  • Light duty assignments
  • Modified work schedules
  • Temporary transfers to less strenuous or less hazardous work
  • Time off to recovery from childbirth (prescribed by a doctor, typically 6-8 weeks)
  • Break time and appropriate facilities (not a bathroom) for expressing milk

As with federal law, state law permits employers to deny the accommodation if it would cause an undue hardship, as defined by state law. Notably, state law requires employers to provide written notice to employees of their rights through an updated workplace poster.

Connecticut already had some of the broadest protections to nursing mothers as well. Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-40w states that “absent an undue hardship”, an employer must provide an area to nursing mothers that: 1) is free from intrusion and shielded from the public; 2) includes or is near a refrigerator or an employee-provided portable cold storage device; 3) has access to an electrical outlet. This applies to all employers with one or more employees.

Interaction of State and Federal Laws

So with both federal and state laws in play, what are an employer’s obligations? As with most employment laws, employers have to comply with the law that provides the most protection to the employee. In Connecticut, state law is going to trump federal law almost always because it applies to a broader set of employers and provides more detailed requirements than the federal law. Thus, for employers in Connecticut, the new federal laws should have a minimal impact if they have already been complying with state law.

Next Steps for Employers

Again, for Connecticut employers, a modest update to your employment policies may be all that is required. For example, you might want to indicate in your policy that employees have rights under federal and state law and that your policy is intended to cover both sets of requirements.

For employers though with employees in jurisdictions outside of Connecticut, the new federal laws may require some edits to your policy, particularly if you haven’t been providing reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers or you haven’t been thinking about what can be provided to nursing employees.

At a minimum, employers should use these new federal laws as an opportunity to review their current policies and practices and train their managers and human resources personnel on the requirements of all these laws. And be sure to understand how laws in other states (such as California) may require further changes as well.

And as always, consult with your employment law attorneys about what may be required for your specific business.