Oregon Legislature Extends New Protections to Pregnant Workers

The Oregon legislature recently passed two new laws that will provide more protection for pregnant workers and breastfeeding mothers in the workplace.

First, the Employer Accommodation for Pregnancy Act extends protections to pregnant workers. The Law requires reasonable accommodations for medical conditions related to pregnancy and makes it unlawful to discriminate or deny employment to an applicant based on the need to make a reasonable accommodation.  The governor signed House Bill 2341 in May 2019.  The law goes into effect on January 1, 2020.

Soon, employers with 6 or more employees will be required to provide reasonable accommodations, including but not limited to: acquisition or modification of equipment or devices; more frequent or longer break periods or periodic rest; assistance with manual labor; or modification of work schedules or job assignments.  Examples include a chair for a cashier who usually stands, light duty for a worker who can no longer lift heavy items, or more frequent breaks to use the restroom.  The Act is intended to protect all pregnant employees and applicants even if pregnancy/childbirth does not result in a technical disability.  Reasonable accommodations also include leave, but an employer cannot force a pregnant employee to take leave (or any other accommodation) that the employee does not need.  

This Act ensures that employers do not:

  • Deny employment opportunities if based on the need to make reasonable accommodations;

  • Fail or refuse to make reasonable accommodations (unless undue hardship of operation of the business);

  • Take adverse action including discrimination or retaliation against the employee because they inquired about or requested reasonable accommodations;

  • Require an applicant or employee to accept an accommodation that is unnecessary to perform the essential duties of the job or to accept accommodation if they do not have a known limitation; or

  • Require an employee to take family leave or other leave if the employer can make reasonable accommodations.

BOLI reports that employers who accommodate pregnant employees can help eliminate the "motherhood penalty" while improving employee morale and productivity.  BOLI also confirms that businesses that provide these accommodations typically incur a benefit because these accommodations usually come at no or low cost to employers, lead to higher employer satisfaction, productivity and loyalty, and allow employers to retain qualified employees.

An employee who alleges a violation of the Act may bring a civil action for damages or file a complaint with BOLI.

Second, through a separate bill, HB 2593, the Oregon legislature amended Oregon’s law related to milk expression in the workplace to conform to federal law.  These amendments change the period of rest breaks for milk expression from 30 minutes every four hours to a "reasonable rest period."  The amendments also require employers to provide reasonable rest periods to accommodate an employee who needs to express milk.  These amendments go into effect on September 29, 2019.  

Under the amended law, employees are required to provide reasonable notice to the employer regarding the employee’s intention to express milk upon returning to work after the child’s birth – but failure to give notice is not grounds for discipline.

The amendments further require employers to make reasonable efforts to provide a location in close proximity to the employee’s work area, other than public restroom or toilet stall, for the employee to express milk in private.  And an employer may allow an employee to temporarily change job duties if their regular job duties do not allow the employee to express milk.

This is vital for new moms because waiting too long between pumping or feeding can cause serious issues and infections.  These amendments will lead to long-term benefits, enabling more women to support the health of their child through continued breastfeeding when returning to work.