Know Your Rights: Pregnancy and Work
Updated July 2023
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The Healthy Starts Act is a Washington State law that gives many pregnant workers the right to accommodations at work related to bathroom breaks, food and drink, heavy lifting, sitting/standing, and other accommodations as needed. “Accommodation” here means a change to your workday that you have asked for to allow for physical needs while you are pregnant.
Am I Covered by the Healthy Starts Act?
If you work in Washington State for an employer with 15 or more employees, you are covered by the Healthy Starts Act, no exceptions.
If you work for an employer with less than 15 employees, you may still have rights to certain accommodations, such as the Washington Law Against Discrimination. See “Are there Other Laws that Protect Pregnant Workers?” below for more information.
Employment discrimination cases can be complex. If you think that your rights have been violated but you are not sure if you are protected by the Healthy Starts Act or other employment laws, talk to an employment lawyer about your particular situation.
What If I Am an Undocumented Immigrant?
You are covered by the Healthy Starts Act the same as citizens and documented immigrants. Undocumented immigrants are also protected by the state and federal anti-discrimination laws described below.
What Does the Healthy Starts Act Require Employers to Do?
If your employer has 15 or more employees, they must at least:
Provide more frequent, longer, or flexible restroom breaks;
Change a no-food-or-drink policy;
Provide seating or allow you to sit more frequently; and
Limit lifting to 17 pounds or less.
Depending on your job, these accommodations may or may not be difficult to provide. Even if they are difficult to provide, your employer must make these accommodations if you ask for them.
Your employer also must consider other accommodations you request. See “What Other Accommodations Can I Request?” below.
Do I Need a Note From My Healthcare Provider?
You do not need a note from your healthcare provider for the accommodations listed above. But if you are asking for other accommodations, your employer can ask you for a note from your provider to support that request.
What Other Accommodations Can I Request?
You can also ask for:
Job restructuring, including a part-time or adjusted work schedule, job reassignment to an empty position, or providing or changing equipment, devices, or your work station;
A temporary transfer to a less active or less dangerous position;
Help with manual labor;
Scheduling flexibility for prenatal visits; and
Any other accommodations you may need.
Your employer must consider your request and review medical documents that you provide. Your employer can deny your request only if it is an “undue hardship.” See the next Q&A for more information about undue hardship.
What Is an “Undue Hardship”?
The Healthy Starts Act defines “undue hardship” as “an action requiring significant difficulty or expense.” Your employer is allowed to decline your request if it would be very difficult or expensive for them.
Remember, your employer must allow your request for accommodations related to food and drink, breaks, lifting, and sitting/standing, as described earlier in this publication. Your employer is not allowed to say these accommodations are an undue hardship.
What If I Get Fired or Demoted for This?
Your employer MAY NOT discriminate against you because you are pregnant or because you have asked for an accommodation. Your employer may not:
Retaliate or punish you for requesting an accommodation;
Deny you employment opportunities because you requested an accommodation;
Make you to take time off instead of allowing a reasonable accommodation; nor
Deny your request for other accommodations (unless they can show undue hardship).
See the Legal Voice publication Employment Discrimination for information about retaliation and discrimination at work.
Do I Have To Take These Accommodations?
No. Your employer cannot make changes to your job because you are pregnant unless you ask for them.
What Do I Do If My Rights Are Violated?
You may be able to fix the situation with help from a lawyer or the Attorney General’s office. See the Resources section.
You can sue your employer for violating the Healthy Starts Act. See the Legal Voice publication Employment Discrimination.
You may also file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office. You can send an email, leave a voicemail, or file a complaint online. See the Resources section below.
Employment discrimination cases are complex. We strongly encourage you to get help from an employment lawyer. See the Legal Voice publications How to Find a Lawyer and Other Legal Resources in Washington State as well as Working with a Lawyer.
Are There Other Laws That Protect Pregnant Workers?
Yes. These laws also protect pregnant workers:
- The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD)
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)
- The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA)
- The Rehabilitation Act (for federal workers)
The Healthy Starts Act adds to your rights and does not conflict with these other laws. The Healthy Starts Act was passed to make it easier for pregnant workers to get basic accommodations at work.
The Washington Law Against Discrimination – a state law – covers employers with eight or more employees. These employers must make reasonable accommodations for known disabilities. This can include pregnancy-related medical conditions (like gestational diabetes, mood disorders, etc.) if the employer makes similar accommodations for other disabilities or medical conditions. This law is very similar to the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (described below). The key difference is it covers more employers.
The Americans with Disabilities Act – a federal law – covers employers with 15 or more employees. These employers must make reasonable accommodations for disabilities, including some pregnancy-related medical conditions.
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act – a federal law – employers with 15 or more employees must make reasonable accommodations for a pregnant worker if the employer makes similar accommodations for other disabilities or medical conditions. This law also governs discriminatory treatment, like hiring/firing, job assignments, etc.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is a new federal law. As of June 2023, employers with 15 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations for limitations due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical issues. The employer must know about the limitation, and the accommodation must not cause an “undue hardship.” Reasonable accommodations can include
- sitting down;
- drink water;
- have a closer parking spot;
- have more flexible hours;
- receive additional break time to use the bathroom, eat, and rest;
- take leave or time off to recover from childbirth; and
- be excused from activities that are strenuous or involve exposure to materials or chemicals that are not safe for pregnancy.
You can file a PWFA complaint if the incident took place after June 27, 2023. For more information, visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission webpage listed in Resources below.
The Rehabilitation Act covers federal employees only. Limitations due to pregnancy or childbirth that substantially limit a major life activity must be reasonably accommodated and cannot result in adverse employment actions.
For more information about these and other employment discrimination laws, see the Legal Voice publication Employment Discrimination.
Legal Voice publications:
Washington’s New Healthy Starts Act Requires Employers to Provide Reasonable Accommodations to Pregnant Workers Absent the Showing of a Disability, by Kellie Tabor and Emily Cardenas: This is an in-depth review of the law, which may be helpful for both employees and employers.
Washington Department of Labor and Industries: For more information about the accommodations required by the Healthy Starts Act.
Washington State Office of the Attorney General
This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice. This information is current as of June 2023. Updated by Alizeh Bhojani and Chloe Phalan. Acknowledgments to Fajer Saeed Ebrahim and Katie Chamberlain for their work on previous versions of this memo.
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(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and to individuals for non-commercial purposes only.)