NEW GUIDANCE: Washington State Attorney General Publishes New Guide on Pregnancy Accommodations

The Washington State Attorney General recently published a Guide (“Pregnant Workers’ Accommodation Rights”) which outlines pregnant employees’ civil rights under the Washington Healthy Starts Act.

As a refresher, the Washington Healthy Starts Act requires Washington employers with at least 15 employees in Washington state provide accommodations to pregnant employee, regardless of a pregnancy disability.  Among the accommodations to be provided include, but are not limited to:

  • Providing more frequent, longer, or flexible restroom breaks;
  • Modifying a no food or drink policy;
  • (Job restructuring, part-time or modified work schedules, reassignment to a vacant position, or acquiring or modifying equipment, devices, or an employee’s workstation;
  • Providing seating or allowing the employee to sit more frequently if her job requires her to stand;
  • Providing for a temporary transfer to a less strenuous or less hazardous position;
  • Providing assistance with manual labor and limits on lifting;
  • Scheduling flexibility for prenatal visits; and
  • Any further pregnancy accommodation an employee may request, and to which an employer must give reasonable consideration in consultation with information provided on pregnancy accommodation by the department of labor and industries or the attending health care provider of the employee.

The new Guide explains an employers obligations under the Healthy Starts Act and clarifies when an employer can (and cannot) ask for additional information.  Specifically, employers must grant a pregnant employee’s request for

  • Frequent, longer, or flexible restroom breaks;
  • Modification of a no food or drink policy;
  • Seating or allowing the employee to sit more frequently; and
  • Limiting lifting to 17 pounds or less.

This type of request must be granted without question and the employer cannot ask that the employee provide documentation to support that request.  On the other hand, employers may request a written note from a health care professional outlining the need for a change when a pregnant employee requests:

  • Job restructuring, including modifying a work schedule, job reassignment, changing a work station, or providing equipment;
  • A temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position;
  • Scheduling flexibility for prenatal visits; and
  • Any further accommodations the employee may need.

Finally, the new Guide explains what types of employer actions are prohibited under the Healthy Starts Act, which include:

  • Failing or refusing to accommodate a pregnant employee, unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship” (i.e. an action requiring significant difficulty or expense);
  • Retaliate against a pregnant employee who requests a change to their work environment;
  • Deny employment opportunities to an otherwise qualified employee because of their needs; or
  • Require a pregnant employee to take leave if an alternative solution could be provided.