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In the BLOG

Employment rights for parents and guardians

Being a parent, guardian, or caregiver is hard work!  The workplace presents many unique challenges in connection with pregnancy, childbirth, adoption, and having a family.  Until recently, there were few employment rights for parents, pregnant employees, and workers in related circumstances.  However, two new federal laws are notable because they cover more workers and strengthen existing protections.  Here’s a run-down of important laws that provide workplace rights relating to pregnancy, childbirth, adoption, and family responsibilities:

Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and Title VII

Together, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit employment discrimination based on pregnancy or related parental status.  Specifically, a covered employer may not discriminate against you because of your “sex,” which includes traits that one has because of “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.”

Under these laws, a covered employer cannot deny you a job, fire you, reduce your pay, or take other adverse actions actions because of your sex, pregnancy, or related status.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that protects employees who need to take time off for medical or caregiver related reasons.  Eligible employees may take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to care for a newborn child for up to one year after birth, care for an adopted or foster child for up to one year after placement, or to recover from a serious medical condition that prevents them from working.  However, the FMLA only applies to certain employers and employees.  Check out our post about FMLA leave for more information about the FMLA.


Since 2010, the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law has required covered employers to provide adequate time and space for nursing employees to pump breast milk.  On December 29, 2022, President Biden signed the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (the “PUMP Act”), which strengthens the mandate to accommodate employees who are nursing.  Specifically, employers must provide a reasonable amount of unpaid break time as well as a private, hygienic place —which may not be a restroom— for lactation.  Covered employers must provide these accommodations for up to one year after childbirth.  Significantly, the PUMP Act protects millions more employees than its predecessor, the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law.  The PUMP Act also provides guidance about how an employee can take legal action if an employer is violating the law.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA)

Another new law, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) will go into effect on June 27, 2023.  In part, the purpose of the PFWA is to fill notable gaps in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).  For example, the PDA does not require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees.  On the other hand, the PWFA requires employers who have 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees and applicants with physical or mental disabilities resulting from pregnancy, childbirth, or a related condition.

Similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and DC’s Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act of 2014, the PWFA requires an employer to engage in an “interactive dialogue” with the employee to identify an appropriate accommodation, unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the employer.  For example, the employer could provide modified assignments, a flexible schedule, or ergonomic equipment to accommodate an employee with a disability related to pregnancy or childbirth.  But unlike the ADA, the PWFA expands the definition of “disability” to include temporary inability to perform everyday tasks.

State and local employment rights for parents

Depending on where you work, state and local laws may provide further protections.  For example, the DC Human Rights Act (DCHRA) outlaws employment discrimination based on “sex” as well as “family responsibilities” and “familial status.”  The DCHRA defines these traits as “supporting an individual in a legal dependent or blood relationship” including children and “a pregnant individual or a parent, guardian, or caregiver who has legal status with respect to children under the age of 18.”

The DC Family and Medical Leave Act (DCFMLA), also protects employees with family responsibilities.  The DCFMLA requires covered employers to provide eligible employees with 16 weeks of unpaid family leave and 16 weeks of unpaid medical leave during a 24-month period.  Eligible employees may take family leave in connection with childbirth, adoption, or fostering of a child, or to care for a seriously ill family member.  Eligible employees may take medical leave to recover from a serious medical condition that prevents them from working.

Additionally, DC Paid Family Leave Act requires covered DC employers to provide eligible employees paid leave in connection with pregnancy, bonding with a new child, or caring for their own or a family member’s serious health condition.

How can an employment attorney help me?

If you have questions about maternity leave, pregnancy accommodations, or other types of employment rights for parents, it may be helpful to consult a lawyer.  An experienced employment attorney can give you advice about requesting reasonable accommodations and determine if your employer violated your rights.  Alan Lescht and Associates can help.  Our attorneys represent clients in cases involving parental status discrimination, caregiver responsibilities, maternity leave, paternity leave, and accommodations for pregnancy and related conditions.  We represent federal government workers around the world, as well as private-sector and state and local government employees in Washington, DC, Maryland, and northern Virginia.

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