NEWS

New Laws Benefit Pregnant Workers and Breastfeeding Parents

pumping at work

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Key Takeaways

  • In late December 2022, President Biden signed two new bills into law that protect the rights of pregnant people and nursing parents.
  • The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant people.
  • The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act expands on the rights protected in the Affordable Care Act, and requires these rights to be extended to salaried employees, not just hourly employees.

Being a working parent can be challenging enough, but things become much more difficult when your workplace isn’t accommodating. While many workplaces are supportive of expectant and new parents, some, unfortunately, aren’t.

For example, 2022 data from the Bipartisan Policy Center found that one in five new parents experienced pregnancy-related discrimination in their workplace. A 2020 study found despite requirements laid out in the Affordable Care Act, many employers still fall short of providing new parents lactation support, and not all workplaces offer breastfeeding parents private areas to pump their milk or appropriate break time to pump.

The good news? Lawmakers are trying to change this. On December 29, 2022, President Biden signed the Omnibus appropriations bill which contained two pieces of legislation protecting the rights of pregnant people and nursing parents: the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) and the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act.

PWFA, which goes into effect in June of 2023, requires employers to provide workers with reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy. The PUMP act expands the rights of nursing parents to have a private place to express their milk and to take breaks to pump. The PUMP act goes into effect 120 days after the law was passed.

Employment law experts help us understand what these two new laws mean for working parents, and what to do if you need further help getting these accommodations at work.

What is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

“The PWFA provides workers and applicants with the right to reasonable accommodations related to their pregnancy,” explains Stacy Hickox, JD, counsel with the employment law firm of Kalijarvi, Chuzi, Newman & Fitch, P.C. in Washington, D.C. and a former professor of law at Michigan State University.

PWFA applies specifically to any employer with 15 or more employees. Not only does the act guarantee reasonable accommodations at work, but applicants can’t be denied jobs just because they may need accommodations during pregnancy, Hickox explains. There is one caveat, though, says Hickox: “The employer can still deny an accommodation if it would impose an undue hardship on the employer.”

Here's what these “reasonable accommodations” look like. “Under the PWFA, employers should accommodate for a pregnant person’s needs by doing things like modifying no-food-or-drink policies, providing a stool to an employee otherwise required to engage in excessive standing, or reassigning heavy lifting duties,” says Meg York, JD, a staff attorney and assistant professor of law at Vermont Law and Graduate School.

Updating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed, which offered some basic rights to pregnant workers. But clearly, the law needed updating for modern times, and to accommodate the broader needs of pregnant people.

“The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibited discrimination against pregnant people, but it did not require reasonable accommodations,” says Sharona Hoffman, JD, a professor of law and director of the Law-Medicine Center at Case Western University. That meant that employers couldn’t flat-out reject an applicant simply because they were pregnant, says Hoffman.

The Pregnancy Discrmination Act didn't originally go far enough. “[Employers] did not have to bend any rules for them, such as providing extra breaks or a stool to sit on,” she explains. The new Pregnant Workers Fairness Act takes that extra step.

How Does the PUMP Act Protect Breastfeeding People?

The PUMP Act extends some of the protections that were laid out in the 2010 Affordable Care Act, explains York. "This new law covers more workers and ensures pumping parents are appropriately compensated,” York commented. For example, the PUMP act protects both salaried and hourly employees.

The PUMP Act also requires employees to count time expressing milk as hours worked, if the employee is also working while they pump, York explains. So that means that if you are grading papers or answering emails on your pumping break, you will be compensated for your time.

Closing the Loophole in the 2010 Affordable Care Act

The Affordable Care Act passed in 2010 was a game-changer for breastfeeding parents, but it didn't cover everyone of childbearing age.

Employers were required to provide breastfeeding parents time and a place to pump their milk but this law only covered hourly employees, Hoffman explains. “Before now, this right was limited to workers who are not exempt from the right to overtime pay,” says Hickox. “Obviously, many nursing parents work in salaried positions performing duties that do not entitle them to overtime pay, but they still have a need to express milk during the workday.”

How Can I Get Workplace Accommodations If Pregnant or Nursing?

Even with protective laws in place, some new parents experience discrimination at work or don’t have their needs appropriately accommodated. “Pregnant and breast/chestfeeding parents should be able to take steps to protect themselves and their children without jeopardizing their employment,” says York.

PWFA and the PUMP Act make this more possible, York says. Still, there may be situations where pregnant and nursing parents will need to self-advocate for their rights. “Individuals should identify the accommodations that make it possible to work and bring those to their employers,” York recommends.

Hickox says the first step is usually to go to your human resources department to request accommodations. If this is not successful, you can contact the specific agencies that enforce these two new laws, Hickox suggests.

PWFA is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). “If an employer fails to provide reasonable accommodations for a pregnant worker, a charge can be filed with the regional EEOC office, or a state civil rights office,” Hickox explains. “That office will then investigate the charge, try to resolve the claim, and likely provide the worker with a right to sue letter, allowing the worker to file a complaint in federal court.” You can find more information about this process on the EEOC website.

The PUMP Act is enforced by the Department of Labor (DOL), and required by the Fair Labor Standards Act, says Hickox. A complaint can be filed with a local DOL office, she explains. You can find more information about how to file such a complaint on the Department of Labor website.

What This Means For You

Whether you are currently a working parent or expect to become one in the near future, it can be reassuring to know that lawmakers are doing what they can to protect your rights. Still, sometimes difficult situations arise even when the law is on your side. Thankfully, there are resources out there to help you. Above all, you should feel empowered to fight for your rights.

6 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. United States Congress. H.R.1065 - Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

  2. United States Congress. H.R.3110 - PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act.

  3. Bipartisan Policy Center. BPC – Morning Consult: 1 in 5 Moms Experience Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace.

  4. McCardel RE, Padilla HM. Assessing Workplace Breastfeeding Support Among Working Mothers in the United States. Workplace Health and Safety. 2020;68(4):182-189. doi:10.1177/2165079919890358

  5. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and  Management. What to Expect When You're Expecting (and After the Birth of Your Child)...at Work.

  6. Hawkins SS, Dow-Fleisner S, Noble A. Breastfeeding and the Affordable Care Act. Pediatric Clinics of North America. 2015;62(5):1071-1091. doi:10.1016/j.pcl.2015.05.002

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.