An unusually productive 2022 for employment legislation in Congress represents a shift for women in the workplace as businesses adapt their training and policies after the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and the #MeToo movement.
Congress passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and the PUMP Act as part of the 2023 government funding bill late last year. The bills require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees in the workplace, and expand protections and close employer loopholes for nursing parents who need to pump at work, respectively.
And earlier in the year, President Joe Biden signed bills that ended forced arbitration for sexual harassment and assault cases, and voided some nondisclosure agreements for workers making similar claims.
The bipartisan efforts to pass those bills are in part the result of cultural shifts focused on what women experience in the workplace after an exodus during the pandemic, and will push employers to be more proactive in ensuring protections for those workers, according to attorneys.
“I think that this is continuing legislation that needed bipartisan support at a federal level following the #MeToo movement, which was five years ago, and we’re finally seeing federal legislation addressing some of these real issues in the workplace,” said Nancy Gunzenhauser Popper, an employment attorney at Epstein Becker & Green PC in New York.
“It will mean that employers need to take a close look at their policies and documents that go to employees, and make sure that they are up to date and reflect these changes,” she said.
A renewed emphasis on training and updated policies are likely the immediate tasks employers should tackle to avoid litigation under the new set of federal laws. …
The enactment of the Ending Enforced Arbitration of Sexual Assault And Sexual Harassment Act as well as the Speak Out Act may turn employers’ attention to yearly harassment trainings for workers.
These sessions are not legally required in all jurisdictions across the country, Gunzenhauser Popper said. Definitions of sexual harassment also vary by state, with some lacking clear statutes, and some mandating prevention training while others don’t….
The new federal laws might motivate employers in states without harassment training mandates to implement them annually, Gunzenhauser Popper said. …
Before the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act passed, employers were prohibited from discriminating against pregnant employees and job applicants, but didn’t have a clear obligation to provide accommodations such as lighter duty and more frequent bathroom breaks.
The PUMP Act expanded nursing protections for workers who had been excluded from previous legislation, such as teachers and registered nurses. Employers that did not provide a private space other than the bathroom and specific break times for nursing parents must do so now.
An accommodation policy “is incredibly helpful to make sure that not only the employees understand their rights to lactation accommodation, but also ensures that employers are prepared for someone who requests it,” Gunzenhauser Popper said. They can “start to think about where that space would be, how the break time would be handled, how to communicate with managers or other employees who ask ‘How come this person is getting an extra break?’”