Washington State Enacts New Protections for Pregnant Employees

Last week Governor Inslee signed into law the “Healthy Starts Act,” which is aimed at promoting healthy outcomes for pregnant women and newborns.  The law includes new protections for pregnant workers.

Starting on July 23, 2017, it is an unfair business practice for any employer with 15 or more employees to:

  • Fail or refuse to make reasonable accommodation for an employee for pregnancy, unless the employer can demonstrate that doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s program, enterprise, or business;
  • Take adverse action against an employee who requests, declines, or uses an accommodation under this section that affects the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment;
  • Deny employment opportunities to an otherwise qualified employee if such denial is based on the employer’s need to make reasonable accommodation required by this section;
  • Require an employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation can be provided for the employee’s pregnancy.

Reasonable accommodations listed in the statute include scheduling flexibility for prenatal visits, temporary job transfer, reduced or modified work schedules, providing more frequent restroom breaks, and modifying a no food or drink policy.  The law permits an employer to request written certification from an employee’s health care provider regarding the need for certain accommodations.  It also limits what employers may claim as an “undue hardship” and authorizes recovery of damages, costs, and attorney fees if an employer is found in violation of the statute’s provisions.  The full text of the law is available here:  http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2017-18/Pdf/Bills/Senate%20Passed%20Legislature/5835-S.PL.pdf#page=1

If you have questions about a specific employee or need help updating your policies and procedures, please contact any member of our Employment Group:  503-227-1111; http://www.sussmanshank.com/employment.

We will update this post when the Washington Department of Labor & Industries publishes required guidance on the rights and responsibilities of employers and employees who have a health condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.

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