A new law protecting workers from employment discrimination based on pregnancy, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), took effect in New York City at the end of January 2014, and employees are already benefitting from it. A woman who was placed on unpaid leave shortly after notifying her employer of her pregnancy-related work restrictions was able to get her job back, with back pay, as one of the first tests of the new law. Anti-discrimination laws from the federal to the municipal level already prohibit pregnancy discrimination by covered employers. The new city ordinance expands those protections to require reasonable accommodations that allow pregnant employees to continue doing their jobs.
The question of accommodations for pregnant employees has posed difficulties in the past, as anti-discrimination laws primarily address employment practices that need to stop rather than actions an employer should take. Disability laws often require employers to make reasonable accommodations for certain employees, but pregnancy does not always fall within the scope of those laws.
The City Council passed the PWFA unanimously on September 24, 2013 and the mayor signed it into law on October 2. It officially took effect on January 30, 2014. The law amends the city’s definition of an “unlawful discriminatory practice” to include refusal to provide “a reasonable accommodation” to an employee for “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition.” Admin. Code § 8-107(22). This protection applies if the employee needs the accommodation in order to “perform the essential requisites” of their job. The employee must have notified the employer of the pregnancy prior to requesting the accommodation.
One of the first cases to invoke the PWFA began before the law took effect. A 22 year-old employee of a Bronx thrift shop was concerned about how her job duties would affect her pregnancy. At three months, the physical demands of carrying large piles of clothing between the storeroom and the showroom was taking its toll. She obtained a note from her doctor stating that she should not lift, push, or carry anything heavy for the time being. She provided the note to her supervisor on January 9, 2014. Three hours later, the supervisor told her she was being put on unpaid leave because she could not do her job, but could return when she no longer had work restrictions.
The woman happened to be active in the local retail workers’ union, and together they learned about the new law. The PWFA allows complainants to go to the city’s Human Rights Commission, which has the authority to order changes in employment procedures, reinstatement of an employee, and payment of compensatory damages and back pay. In this case, an actual administrative complaint was apparently unnecessary. The company agreed in late February to reinstate the woman at her previous position and wage, and to pay her $1,088 in back pay.
The pregnancy discrimination attorneys of Phillips & Associates represent employees, former employees, and job seekers in the New York City area who have experienced unlawful employment discrimination or retaliation. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.
More Blog Posts:
Government Contractor Settles EEOC’s Pregnancy Discrimination Complaint for $70,000, New York Employment Attorney Blog, January 15, 2014
Lawsuit Brings Attention to Unlawful Workplace Pregnancy Discrimination in New York City and Throughout Nation, New York Employment Attorney Blog, December 26, 2013
New York City Council Passes Law to Protect Pregnant Workers, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 8, 2013
Photo credit: By Momos (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons.