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University Updates Pregnancy Policy Under New State Law

University Hall houses many of Harvard's main administrative offfices.
University Hall houses many of Harvard's main administrative offfices. By Justin F. Gonzalez
By Molly C. McCafferty, Crimson Staff Writer

The University rolled out a new pregnancy in the workplace policy Friday morning following a new Massachusetts law aimed at preventing pregnancy-based workplace discrimination.

The policy, which took effect on April 1, establishes that discrimination in hiring or employment practices on the basis of pregnancy is expressly prohibited and informs employees of their right to “reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions,” according to a statement sent to University employees from the Office of Labor and Employee Relations on Friday.

The change comes as a new piece of state legislation, the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, takes effect. Passed in July, the law describes Mass. employers’ obligations to pregnant employees. It also requires that employers provide written notice of employees’ rights to accommodations for conditions related to pregnancy and lactation and freedom from pregnancy-based discrimination at work.

Harvard’s previous guidelines on pregnancy in the workplace dealt only with lactation, encouraging employers to work “individually and flexibly with all nursing mothers” to accommodate their needs, according to Paul R. Curran, University director of labor and employee relations. These guidelines were in compliance with existing federal laws, like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which mandates that pregnant women be “treated the same for all employment-related purposes.”

“Because of the practice encouraged in our previous guidelines, we do not anticipate much change in implementing the new Policy,” Curran wrote in an emailed statement.

Instead, the new policy “codifies” existing practices and includes protections for pregnancy-related conditions not addressed in earlier policy iterations, like morning sickness and fatigue.

“It is providing a process to employees, and the University, to explore how the worker’s needs regarding pregnancy can be reasonably met in the workplace,” Curran added.

Carrie Barbash—the president of the University’s largest labor union, the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers—wrote in an email that the new policy could help clarify workers’ rights in situations which might otherwise be mishandled.

“Anything that makes it easier to be a parent in the workplace is a good thing,” Barbash wrote.

According to the new policy, some accommodations the University is prepared to make “without limitation” include: modified schedules, more frequent breaks, assistance with manual labor, paid or unpaid time off to attend to pregnancy complications, and private spaces for “expressing breast milk.”

Documentation from a medical professional may be requested for some of these accommodations and for other requests, according to the policy. Requests will be fulfilled absent any “undue hardship” for the University.

“The University will continue to work individually with workers to address needs related to pregnancy in the workplace,” Curran wrote.

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