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There are several federal and state laws in place to safeguard the rights of women in the workplace, especially focusing on protections for pregnant or nursing mothers. At a federal level, key legislation includes the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). These laws ensure that pregnant employees are not discriminated against and are provided with necessary accommodation and leave options.

In Minnesota, additional protections are offered through the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) including the Nursing Mothers, Lactating Employees, and Pregnancy Accommodations as well as, the Minnesota Pregnancy and Parenting Leave Act (MPPLA). WESA specifically addresses issues such as pregnancy accommodations, ensuring that nursing mothers have access to appropriate workplace support. It mandates that employers provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for prenatal care, childbirth, adoption, or to care for a newborn, which aligns closely with the FMLA provisions.

The Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) was put into effect a year ago on June 27, 2023. Under this act employers with 15 or more employees must make reasonable accommodations for employees facing pregnancy-related limitations. A limitation is pregnancy-related if the employee is affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Limitations may include physical or mental conditions, even if they are minor or episodic. The most common accommodations include frequent restroom breaks, light-duty assignments, and better access to water or snacks. This federal law emphasizes the need to accommodate pregnant employees while they continue to work.

While PWFA enables reasonable accommodations, PUMP specifically focuses on accommodating women so they may express milk at the workplace. Under the PUMP Act, all employers, regardless of size, must provide reasonable break time and a clean private space (that is not a restroom) for women to express milk. Employers with less than 50 employees may decline to give breaks to express milk only when doing so would impose an undue hardship on the workplace. The threshold to demonstrate undue hardship is high, and in most situations, employers with under 50 employees must provide the mandated breaks.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects discrimination against pregnant employees, ensuring they are not treated unfairly in hiring, promotion, termination, or other work-related decisions solely due to pregnancy or related conditions. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), entitles eligible employees up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave per year for specific family and medical reasons, including giving birth to a child or to care for the newborn, placing a child up for adoption or caring for a newly placed child in the employee’s home, or caring for a child with a serious health condition. FMLA ensures job security while taking care of an employee’s children.

In Minnesota, the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) follows federal law, but adds further protections for women in the workplace. Under WESA, all employers, regardless of size, must comply with the Nursing Mothers, Lactating Employees, and Pregnancy Accommodations. Employers must offer suitable time and space for employees to pump in the workplace. The space must be clean, private, and secure, meeting specific criteria: close to the work area; in a room other than a bathroom or toilet stall, shielded from view, free from intrusion, and equipped with an electrical outlet. Additionally, these employees are entitled to automatic accommodation including more frequent or longer breaks, seating arrangements, and a limit on lifting of over 20 pounds. This act differs from federal law because all employers must allow accommodations to express milk whether or not it causes an undue burden on the employer. The reasoning behind this further protection is that milk must be expressed regardless of whether a company suffers an undue burden.

Minnesota’s Pregnancy and Parenting Leave Act (MPPLA) mandates all employers to provide up to at least 12 weeks of unpaid pregnancy and parental leave, deviating from FMLA, as it applies regardless of the size of the employer’s business. Employers of any size must offer suitable time and space for employees to pump in the workplace. The space must be clean, private, and secure, meeting specific criteria: close to the work area; in a room other than a bathroom or toilet stall, shielded from view, free from intrusion, and equipped with an electrical outlet. Additionally, these employees are entitled to automatic accommodation including more frequent or longer breaks, seating arrangements, and a limit on lifting of over 20 pounds. The twelve weeks allotted for Minnesota’s Pregnancy and Parenting Leave Act, cannot be combined with FMLA to allow for 24 weeks of leave. The maximum allowed by state and federal law is 12 weeks. If, however, and employer grants more, then the employee may take that additional time off. As of now, the time off for MPPLA is unpaid, but come January 01, 2026, paid time off will be effective for time of during or following a pregnancy.

These combined federal and state laws create a framework aimed at protecting pregnant employee’s and nursing mother’s rights to ensure fair treatment and necessary accommodations. The Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP), Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) collectively ensure that pregnant employees are not subjected to discrimination and are granted necessary accommodations and leave options. Additional safeguards in Minnesota under the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA) and the Minnesota Pregnancy and Parenting Leave Act (MPPLA) enhance these protections by addressing pregnancy accommodations and providing extended unpaid leave. These legislative measures underscore the importance of workplace inclusivity and support for women during significant life transitions, reinforcing their rights to fair treatment and workplace equity nationwide.

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