Washington recently enacted the Healthy Starts Act, a law that provides additional workplace rights and protections for pregnant employees. The law requires any employer with 15 or more employees to provide certain accommodations to its pregnant employees, regardless of whether the employee has a disability as a result of her pregnancy.
Under the law, there are four types of workplace accommodations which a pregnant employee may request and her employer may not ask for medical verification confirming the employee’s need for the accommodation or deny on the basis that the accommodation creates an undue hardship.
Workplace accommodations include:
- More frequent, longer or flexible restroom breaks;
- Modifying a no food or drink policy;
- Providing the employee with seating or allowing the employee to sit more frequently if her position requires regular standing; and,
- Restricting the required lifting of anything over 17 pounds.
Other types of accommodations that are designated as “reasonable” under the law, and thus should be granted by employers wherever possible, include: reducing or modifying an employee’s work schedule, temporarily transferring the employee to a less strenuous or hazardous position, providing schedule flexibility for prenatal visits, modifying an employee’s workstation, assisting the employee with manual labor, and any other pregnancy-related accommodations requested by an employee. For these accommodations, employers may request that the employee provide medical certification supporting her need for the accommodation, but the law expressly prohibits employers from failing or refusing to make the accommodations, unless it can demonstrate that doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business.
The law strictly prohibits employers from taking any retaliatory or adverse action against an employee for requesting, declining or using a workplace accommodation. It also prohibits employers from requiring pregnant employees to take a leave of absence if another reasonable accommodation is available.
The requirements and protections provided by the Healthy Starts Act are in addition to the existing protections and obligations imposed under federal and state disability accommodation laws (including the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Washington State Law Against Discrimination). For this reason, employers should be cautious about denying any request for accommodation from a pregnant employee without first consulting with employment counsel. Additionally, we recommend employers review the new requirements and update their workplace policies and procedures as necessary to ensure compliance.