Proposed Legislation Would Increase Protections Against Pregnancy Discrimination

Workers who are pregnant or recovering from childbirth have certain protections under federal law against employment discrimination. Current law prohibits overt discrimination in hiring, firing, promotions, and other aspects of employment based on pregnancy. It does not necessarily protect employees whose work may suffer from an employer’s refusal to grant reasonable accommodations. Such accommodations may allow employers a basis for terminating a pregnant employee that does not violate existing law, that is nonetheless motivated by the employee’s pregnancy. A new bill pending in Congress, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), would potentially fill in the gaps in pregnant workers’ protections against employment discrimination.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to explicitly include pregnancy discrimination as a prohibited form of gender discrimination. It prohibits employers from discriminating against pregnant employees in any term or condition of employment, hiring and firing, promotions and job assignments, and fringe benefits such as paid leave or insurance. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), employees suffering from complications due to pregnancy or childbirth may have some protections against employment discrimination. The PDA requires employers that offer paid disability leave to employees to extend that coverage to a pregnant employee suffering a pregnancy- or childbirth-related disability. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may ensure that employees of certain companies have access to paid or unpaid maternity leave.

Existing law sometimes still requires a pregnant employee to choose between health needs and an employer’s requirements. While disability law may require some accommodations for pregnant employees, pregnancy is not a “disability” in the same sense as an injury or illness. Employers in all but seven states have no obligation to accommodate pregnant employees’ minor extra needs, such as additional bathroom breaks or help lifting heavy objects. New York is reportedly trying to pass a law requiring some amount of accommodation for pregnant employees. According to Time, complaints of employment discrimination related to pregnancy have risen by fifty percent in the past ten years. A large percentage of these claims come from people in low-paying jobs with physically-demanding jobs and little to no job security.

The PWFA, introduced in the House of Representatives on May 8, 2012 by New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees, unless doing so would cause the employer an “undue hardship.” The law also clarifies an employer’s obligations to a pregnant employee that are analogous to disability laws. Employers would not be allowed to deny work opportunities to pregnant employees solely on the basis of the pregnancy, and they would not be able to force pregnant employees to take unwanted or unnecessary accommodations. If a reasonable accommodation would allow a pregnant employee to continue working, an employer could not force the employee onto leave. The bill has seventy-five co-sponsors, and is pending before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution.

The New York pregnancy discrimination lawyers at Phillips & Associates help safeguard the rights protected by anti-discrimination laws for both employees and job seekers. Contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

More Blog Posts:

Immigrant and Latina Workers in New York Face Sexual Harassment, Other Employment Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, March 7, 2012
Judge Rules that Lactation is Not Related to Pregnancy, So Firing a Worker for Wanting to Pump Breast Milk is Not Illegal, New York Employment Attorney Blog, February 21, 2012
Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace Sometimes Falls into a Murky Legal Area, New York Employment Attorney Blog, January 26, 2012

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