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EEOC clarifies abortion coverage under Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced its final rule implementing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), providing important guidance regarding reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.

The rule, published in the Federal Register on April 19, 2024, clarifies that abortion is included under the list of related medical conditions covered by the PWFA. The rule takes effect 60 days after publication.

The PWFA requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for employees and job applicants with known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions, unless the accommodation will cause the employer undue hardship.

The law went into effect in June 2023, and the EEOC was tasked with creating regulations to clarify and implement the law’s provisions.

“The final rule provides clarity to employers and workers about who is covered, the types of limitations and medical conditions covered, how individuals can request reasonable accommodations, and numerous concrete examples,” the EEOC stated in a press release.

The EEOC’s inclusion of abortion under the PWFA’s protections has drawn criticism from some, with approximately 54,000 out of the 100,000 public comments received asking the agency to exclude the procedure. However, the EEOC has previously clarified that the PWFA does not require employer-sponsored health plans to cover abortion or pay for travel-related expenses, and that most accommodations related to abortion would likely involve time off for medical appointments or recovery.

Republican EEOC Commissioner Andrea Lucas expressed her dissatisfaction with the rule, calling it “needlessly expansive” in a LinkedIn post. While supporting the PWFA and some components of the rule, Lucas disagreed with the majority’s interpretation of the phrase “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.”

The final rule provides numerous examples of reasonable accommodations, guidance on limitations and medical conditions covered, and clarification on how employees can communicate their needs to employers. As the PWFA itself is already in effect, employers are advised to review their policies and accommodation processes to ensure compliance.