Pregnancy Can Still Mean Penalties at Work for Many New Yorkers

1216321_68701662.jpgWomen in the workforce who become pregnant have more legal protections today than at any point in U.S. history. Discrimination against an employee based on pregnancy is prohibited by city, state, and federal law in New York City. Despite all these gains in recent decades, however, pregnant workers still face various forms of discrimination and hardship, and the laws protecting them can be difficult to apply in particular circumstances.

A recent article in the New York Post profiled several women in New York City who dealt with difficulties maintaining their job duties during their pregnancies, and who ended up losing their positions due to loopholes in the various laws. Employers cannot fire or otherwise discriminate against an employee solely based on pregnancy, thanks to laws like Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, the New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law. Employers who violate any of these laws may be liable to an employee for lost wages, future earnings, and other damages. These laws leave other questions unsettled, such as maternity leave, accommodations in scheduling and job duties, and even the ability to return to one’s former position or claim unemployment benefits. As employment discrimination attorneys, we believe it is critical for workers to understand the laws that protect them, and to understand where vulnerabilities may exist.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) requires certain employers to hold certain employees’ jobs for them for at least twelve weeks after certain medical events, including childbirth. The law only applies to employers with fifty or more employees. It applies to workers who have been at a job for at least twelve months, and who have put in at least 1,250 hours during that time. While the law requires employers to hold an employee’s job open, it does not require them to pay an employee during that time.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, and it prohibits employment discrimination based on disability. Pregnancy, however, is not considered a “disability” under the ADA, even though pregnant employees may require some modifications to the workspace or job duties. Although the Civil Rights Act and similar laws may prohibit an employer from cutting a worker’s hours or other job duties based solely on pregnancy, no law requires an employer to accommodate a pregnant employee in the same position as before the pregnancy.

These gaps in legal protection become especially problematic for employees not covered by the FMLA due to the size of the employer or length of employment. As the New York Post reports, some workers not covered by the FMLA take leave from work to give birth with the permission of an employer, only to find that their job is not available when they try to return. In some cases, a different job, often with substantially reduced hours or pay, is all that is available, forcing the employee to look elsewhere for work. In that situation, the now-former employee is ineligible for unemployment benefits because, from the standpoint of the former employer, she “quit” her job.

At Phillips & Associates, we fight to safeguard the rights of employees and job seekers in the New York City area who have experienced pregnancy discrimination and other forms of employment discrimination in violation of federal, state, and local laws. Contact us today online, or call (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Proposed Legislation Would Increase Protections Against Pregnancy Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 22, 2012
EEOC Reviews Pregnancy Discrimination and Discrimination Against Caregiving Workers, New York Employment Attorney Blog, April 27, 2012
Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace Sometimes Falls into a Murky Legal Area, New York Employment Attorney Blog, January 26, 2012
Photo credit: ‘Baby’ by vierdrie on stock.xchng.

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