Seyfarth Synopsis: The Washington State Office of the Attorney General has recently published a Guide outlining pregnant employees’ civil rights under the Washington “Healthy Starts Act,” a law which became effective July 23, 2017.
Under the Healthy Starts Act, employers with at least 15 employees in the state of Washington must provide certain accommodations to pregnant works, regardless of a disability, and the Act provides a list of nine accommodations to be considered, including:
- Providing more frequent, longer, or flexible restroom breaks;
- Modifying a no food or drink policy;
- Providing seating or allowing the employee to sit more frequently if her job requires her to stand; and
- Limiting lifting to 17 pounds or less.
- Job restructuring, including a part-time or modified work schedule, job reassignment to a vacant position, or providing or modifying equipment, devices, or an employee’s work station;
- Providing for a temporary transfer to a less strenuous or less hazardous position;
- Providing assistance with manual labor;
- Scheduling flexibility for prenatal visits; and
- Any further accommodations the employee may request, which an employer must give reasonable consideration, taking into account any Department of Labor & Industries or other medical documents provided by the employee.
The rececently issued Guide outlines employers’ obligations with regard to the above suggested accommodations, and sets forth employer prohibited acts with regard to pregnancy accommodations under the Act. Specifically, the Guide clarifies that employers must provide accommodations 1-4 above and cannot request medical certification from a health care professional for those accommodations, and employers may request written certification from a health care professional regarding the need for the accommodations in 5–8 above, or for restrictions on lifting less than 17 pounds.
The Guide also outlines “prohibited practices” under the Act, which include: (1) Failing or refusing to accommodate a pregnant employee, unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship,” which is defined as “an action requiring significant difficulty or expense.” (2) Retaliating against a pregnant employee who requests a change to their work environment (3) Denying employment opportunities to an otherwise qualified employee because of their needs, or (4) Requiring a pregnant employee to take leave if an alternative solution could be provided.
Finally, the Guide provides information for employees regarding how to report a violation of their rights under the Act.
So what now? The Guide does not actually change or alter employers’ obligations under the Act with regard to pregnancy accommodations, but rather clarifies and outlines what employers should be doing (since the law was enacted in July 2017). Therefore, employers should review their pregnancy accommodation policies and practices in Washington, and ensure they comply with the Act, as outlined in the Guide.
For more information on this, or any related topic please contact the authors, your Seyfarth attorney, or any member of the Absence Management & Accommodations Team or the Workplace Policies and Handbooks Team.