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With federal pregnant worker protections in place, Indiana groups work to raise awareness

This photo shows a caucasian pregnant woman in a black long sleeve shirt. She is sitting at a brown desk with a black computer mouse in her right hand as she rubs her stomach with her left hand.
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The new rule took effect on June 18 and defines the broad terms of the PWFA including what could count as a "reasonable accommodation" and "related medical conditions."

A new rule from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provides guidance to employers for implementing federal protections for pregnant workers. One organization in the state is spreading awareness to employers and workers affected by the new protections.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, or PWFA, requires an employer with 15 or more employees to provide “reasonable” pregnancy accommodations in the workplace.

The Indiana Community Action Poverty Institute recently held an informational meeting to explain the EEOC’s final guidance for the PWFA and how it applies in the workplace. Director Erin Macey said it is important to keep people informed so those who qualify can access these protections.

"In Indiana, we don't have state level protections," Macey said. "Passing the law is one step, but then making sure that workers know their rights and employers know their obligations is another really important part of the process."

The new rule took effect on June 18 and defines the broad terms of the PWFA including what could count as a "reasonable accommodation" and "related medical conditions."

A few examples of reasonable accommodations under the PWFA include: bathroom and food breaks, assistance or relief from lifting, modified scheduling, uniform modifications, and short-term leave or time off with no penalty or retaliation against the worker.

The rule also prohibits employers from retaliating against an employee who requested reasonable accommodations.

Destiny Faceson, with the Grassroots Maternal and Child Health Initiative, said when she was pregnant, she faced negative repercussions from an employer after calling off from work to attend doctors appointments.

“It's something that should have been done a long time ago anyways because babies are our future,” Faceson said. “So if we're not taking care of the body that these babies, this next generation, is coming from, what can we–what can we expect?”

READ MORE: New federal law could protect Indiana’s pregnant workers. Enforcement now a key concern

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The rule highlights a number of pregnancy-related conditions, including lactation, preeclampsia, miscarriage, stillbirth and abortion.

It also limits the accommodations to prevent “undue hardship” on employers – which it defines as causing significant difficulty or expense to the company.

Alessandra Rosa is the lead outreach and education manager for the EEOC’s Indianapolis District Office. She said those who qualify for these workplace protections should inform their employer of their accommodation needs. From there, the employer must engage in a conversation – called by the law an “interactive process” – to assess the needs and come up with an agreement for reasonable accommodations.

Rosa said if a qualified employer chooses not to participate in the “interactive process,” the employee can come to the EEOC's office and file a charge.

Timoria is our labor and employment reporter. Contact her at tcunningham@wfyi.org.