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Morning sickness? Prenatal check-ups? What to know about new rights for pregnant workers

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Morning sickness? Prenatal check-ups? What to know about new rights for pregnant workers
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Morning sickness? Prenatal check-ups? What to know about new rights for pregnant workers

2024-04-20 21:04 Last Updated At:21:20

Pregnant employees have the right to a wide range of accommodations under new federal regulations for enforcing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act that supporters say could change workplace culture for millions of people.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency in charge of enforcing the law, adopted an expansive view of conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth in its proposed regulations, including a controversial decision to include abortion, fertility treatment and birth control as medical issues requiring job protections.

The rules, which were adopted on a 3-2 vote along partisan lines, were published Monday and offer extensive guidelines for addressing more routine difficulties of pregnancy, such as morning sickness, back pain and needing to avoid heavy lifting. Labor advocates say the law will be especially transformative for pregnant women in low-wage jobs, who are often denied simple requests like more bathroom breaks.

Here's what to know about the law and the EEOC regulations.

Congress passed the law with bipartisan support in December 2022 following a decade-long campaign by women's rights and labor advocates, who argued that the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act did little to guarantee women would receive the accommodations they might need at work.

The law stated only that pregnant workers should be treated the same as other employees, not that they deserved special consideration. To get their requests met, many pregnant workers therefore needed to demonstrate they had physical limitations covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act, often creating insurmountable hurdles.

The new law treats pregnancy and related conditions as themselves deserving of “reasonable accommodations” and places the burden on employers to prove “undue hardships” for denying any requests.

The law applies to employers of at least 15 workers. The EEOC estimates it will cover roughly 1.5 million pregnant workers in any given year. The EEOC regulations published April 15 are set to go into effect in June.

The EEOC's 400-page document encompasses a wide array of conditions and relevant advice for employers.

It states that workers are entitled to unpaid time off for situations such as prenatal appointments, fertility treatments, abortion, miscarriage, postpartum depression and mastitis, an infection that arises from breastfeeding. This includes workers who are not covered by federal family leave laws and those who have not been on the job long enough to accrue time off.

Workers can ask for flexible working arrangements to deal with morning sickness, such as a later start time, clearance to work from home or permission to carry snacks in workplaces where eating is typically prohibited. If they can't sit or stand for extended periods due to sciatica, which is common in late pregnancy, they can request a schedule adjustment so their commutes happen during less crowded hours.

The regulations also allow workers to be exempted from tasks such as climbing ladders or heavy lifting. If those duties are essential to their jobs, they can still request a temporary dispensation, according to the EEOC.

Employers don’t have to accommodate workers exactly as requested but they must offer reasonable alternatives. They cannot deny a request without clearing a high bar to prove doing so would cause “undue hardships” for the organization’s finances or operations. They cannot force workers to take unpaid leave if a reasonable accommodation is available.

The EEOC emphasizes that it “should not be complicated or difficult” for pregnant workers to request accommodations. Workers don't have to make requests in writing, use specific words, cite any laws, or in most cases, provide documentation such as doctors' notes. Employers must respond quickly and have a conversation about how to reasonably accommodate a worker’s needs.

Still, legal experts advise both workers and employers to document the process. A Better Balance, the non-profit that spearheaded the 10-year campaign for the law's passage, advises workers to familiarize themselves with their legal rights and be as specific as possible about their limitations and the changes they they need.

Workers who believe a request was denied illegally can file a complaint with the EEOC. They have 180 days to do so, though the deadline can be extended in some states.

The EEOC included abortion among the conditions covered under the law. The rules state, however, that employers are not obligated to cover expenses related to the procedure or to offer health insurance that does.

The EEOC regulations argue that including abortion is consistent with the agency's longstanding interpretation of other laws under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

But the decision drew condemnation from Republican lawmakers who had championed the law's passage. The five-member EEOC's two Republican members voted against the regulations.

In a statement explaining her dissent, Commissioner Andrea Lucas said the agency broadened the scope of the law “to reach virtually every condition, circumstance, or procedure that relates to any aspect of the female reproductive system" in ways that "cannot reasonably be reconciled with the text" of the law.

Melissa Losch, a labor and employment attorney at the New Orleans-based firm McGlinchey Stafford, said she expects the regulations to give rise to further litigation. Losch cited the example of a worker living in a state with a restrictive abortion law requesting time off to undergo the procedure in another state. The EEOC rules provide “no good answer” about whether granting such a request would conflict with restrictive state abortion laws, she added.

On February 27, a federal judge blocked enforcement of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act for Texas state employees, a ruling that came in response to a lawsuit filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. Paxton argued the law was unconstitutional because it was part of a spending bill that passed in the House without a majority of members present, and the judge ruled in his favor.

Gedmark, of A Better Balance, said she was optimistic the Biden administration would prevail in its expected appeal of the ruling. In the meantime, federal and private sectors workers in Texas are covered by the law.

But in her dissenting statement, Lucas warned that if the Texas case or any future lawsuits succeed in overturning the law, the EEOC's divisive rules have “all but extinguished” the chances of a bipartisan effort to reenact it.

Employers have been obligated to abide by the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act since it took effect on June 27, 2023, though the EEOC regulations provided guidance on how to do so.

The law swiftly made a difference to many low-wage workers, according to Gedmark.

A Better Balance, which operates a helpline, has “heard an overwhelmingly positive experience from workers,” she said. Last summer, the organization worked with some women whose employers stopped resisting requests for accommodations as soon as the law took effect, Gedmark said.

Some workers reported their employers were still operating under the old legal framework, handing them pages of disability paperwork to fill out in response to requests.

The EEOC said it received almost 200 complaints alleging violations of the law by the time the fiscal year ended on Sept. 30, 2023.

Gedmark said the success of the law will depend on enforcement and raising awareness.

“If workers don’t know about the law and don’t know about their rights, then it really undermines the purpose of the law,” she said.

The Associated Press’ women in the workforce and state government coverage receives financial support from Pivotal Ventures. AP is solely responsible for all content. Find AP’s standards for working with philanthropies, a list of supporters and funded coverage areas at AP.org.

FILE - The emblem of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is shown on a podium in Vail, Colo., Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in Denver. Pregnant workers have the right to a wide range of accommodations under new federal regulations for implementing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The regulations take an expansive view of conditions related to pregnancy, from fertility treatments to abortion and post-childbirth complications. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

FILE - The emblem of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is shown on a podium in Vail, Colo., Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2016, in Denver. Pregnant workers have the right to a wide range of accommodations under new federal regulations for implementing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The regulations take an expansive view of conditions related to pregnancy, from fertility treatments to abortion and post-childbirth complications. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

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42% of Companies Ready to Adopt Digital ID, New Regula Study Shows

2024-05-21 15:02 Last Updated At:15:11

RESTON, Va.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--May 21, 2024--

As more countries adopt the concept of digital identity, regulators are keen to showcase their plans and successes. But what do businesses think about this shift? To find out, Regula, a global developer of forensic devices and identity verification (IDV) solutions, commissioned a study to survey companies across different regions and industries to get a sense of their readiness, concerns, and expectations for digital identities.

This press release features multimedia. View the full release here: https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20240521226453/en/

Digital identity is considered to be a way to improve the efficiency and security of services, reduce fraud, and enhance access to public services, ensuring that they are delivered quickly and to the right people. A digital ID is an online representation of an individual, which contains personal information, credentials, and attributes used to establish and authenticate identity in digital spaces. As such, digital identity is already a well-recognized concept in different sectors.

Perception. According to the Forrester Consulting study “ The New Imperative: Digital IDs,” 81% of large and enterprise-level companies from the Aviation, Banking, Government, IT, and Telecom sectors have at least a basic awareness of this technology, with almost half possessing a thorough understanding. Moreover, some countries and sectors, primarily those with advanced digital infrastructures and regulatory frameworks, as well as high customer online interaction frequencies, have already made a leap towards its adoption.

Implementation. Currently, 42% of organizations worldwide are actively integrating digital ID technologies into their systems, and 31% are in the early stages of implementation. Another 17% of respondents are now developing a strategic plan to begin this transformation.

The United Arab Emirates shows higher integration rates, where the majority of businesses (54%) have already moved to active integration. At the same time, places with stricter regulations, such as the US and Europe, are taking a more cautious approach, with only 37% and 39% of companies respectively claiming to be at the integration stage.

“As the Forrester experts note in the study, the complexities and disparities of global implementation across various landscapes highlight the strategic necessity of adopting a hybrid approach to digital IDs. Moreover, there is no single, universally accepted set of global standards for digital IDs that applies across all countries and sectors. Therefore, the large number of companies at the stage of active implementation demonstrates a growing need for frameworks and guidelines that aim to foster interoperability, security, and privacy across different digital ID systems. The good news is that several international organizations and standards bodies — New Technology Working Group in the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), etc. — are working towards those standards. This seems to be a case in which slow and steady wins the race,” said Ihar Kliashchou, Chief Technology Officer at Regula.

More insights on the survey results will be revealed during an upcoming webinar with Regula and European Telecommunications Standards Institute experts. Register to join the live discussion!

Methodology:

In January 2024, Regula commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a survey with 226 manager-level and higher decision makers responsible for their organizations’ ID verification solutions. The respondents were primarily from Europe, North America and the Middle East, with at least 500 employees or more.

About Regula

Regula is a global developer of forensic devices and identity verification solutions. With our 30+ years of experience in forensic research and the largest library of document templates in the world, we create breakthrough technologies in document and biometric verification. Our hardware and software solutions allow over 1,000 organizations and 80 border control authorities globally to provide top-notch client service without compromising safety, security or speed.

Regula was repeatedly named a Representative Vendor in the Gartner® Market Guide for Identity Verification.

Learn more at www.regulaforensics.com.

Regula study shows, that the majority of companies around the world are fully aware of digital IDs. Moreover, there are organizations, that have already started integrating this technology in their IDV procedures. (Graphic: Business Wire)

Regula study shows, that the majority of companies around the world are fully aware of digital IDs. Moreover, there are organizations, that have already started integrating this technology in their IDV procedures. (Graphic: Business Wire)

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