After years of work by women’s rights advocates, the state of Tennessee provided stronger legal protections for pregnant women by enacting the Tennessee Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (Senate Bill 2520). The law, which goes into effect Oct. 1, 2020, was signed by Tennessee Governor Bill Lee on June 22, 2020, and marks Tennessee as the thirtieth state to strengthen protections for pregnant workers.
The act requires every employer with at least 15 or more employees to make any temporary, reasonable accommodation for employees with medical conditions relating to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Among other accommodations, the act defines a reasonable accommodation as any of the following:
- Making existing workplaces readily accessible and usable;
- Providing more frequent, longer, or flexible breaks;
- Providing a private place, other than a bathroom stall, for the purpose of expressing milk;
- Providing modified seating or allowing the employee to sit more frequently if the job requires standing;
- Authorizing a temporary transfer to a vacant position;
- Providing job restructuring or light duty, if available;
- Modifying work schedules; and
- Allowing flexible scheduling for prenatal visits.
Should Employers Provide Leave as an Accommodation?
The law prohibits disciplinary action from the employer against an employee requesting or using a reasonable accommodation under the above circumstances (including counting an absence related to pregnancy under a no-fault attendance policy). The law also prevents employers from requiring employees to “take leave under a leave law or policy adopted by the employer if another reasonable accommodation can be provided.”
However, the law specifically states that employers are not required to provide protections greater than those afforded to other employees who need reasonable accommodation:
- Hire or promote employees lacking qualifications who would not have otherwise been hired/promoted because of an employee’s pregnancy;
- Discharge an employee, transfer another employee with more seniority, or promote another employee who is not qualified to perform the new job;
- Create a new position, including a light-duty position for the employee, unless a light-duty position would be provided for another equivalent employee;
- Compensate an employee for more frequent or longer break periods, unless the employee uses a break period that would otherwise be compensated; or
- Construct a permanent, dedicated space for expressing milk.
Employers Can Require Medical Certifications
Employers may request a medical certification from a healthcare professional relating to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions to support any request for a temporary job transfer to a vacant position, job restructuring, light duty, or absence from work. When an employee is making good faith efforts to obtain certification, employers are prohibited from taking adverse action against the employee. Under the ADA, employers must engage in a good faith interactive process with the employee to determine if the requested accommodation is reasonable and necessary.
How Employers Should Prepare for the Law’s Oct. 1, 2020, Effective Date
Employers should review their policies and practices relating to hiring, accommodation, and leave to ensure compliance with the new law’s requirements. This includes training managers on their responsibilities under the new law. Employers should consider all accommodation requests relating to pregnancy or childbirth on a case-by-case basis.