State Laws, Proposed Federal Law Require Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Employees

Employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is viewed as a form of gender or sex discrimination under federal law, as well as most state laws. This applies to employment practices that have a disparate impact on pregnant employees, such as hiring, firing, promotions, layoffs, compensation, bonuses, work assignments, and job duties. It does not necessarily apply to reasonable accommodations by the employer for conditions related to pregnancy. Employees who lose their jobs because the employer is unwilling to make reasonable accommodations, such as extra restroom breaks or lifting restrictions, may not have legal recourse in many jurisdictions. New York City enacted a law protecting pregnant workers in this area, and several states have passed or are considering similar laws. New York’s state legislature and the U.S. Congress have pending laws addressing reasonable accommodations but have not passed them.

S942, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), has been languishing in the U.S. Senate since Pennsylvania Senator Robert Casey introduced it on May 14, 2013. The bill gained the support of President Obama in June 2014, but it remains in committee. It would expand the definition of “unlawful employment practice” under federal law to include failing to “make reasonable accommodations to [sic] the known limitations related to the pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” of employees and job seekers, unless that employer can show that doing so would impose an “undue hardship” on its business operations. PWFA at § 2. It would further prohibit employers from “deny[ing] employment opportunities” based on the need for a reasonable accommodation, requiring an employee to accept an accommodation he or she does not want, and requiring an employee to take leave due to pregnancy or a related condition if another reasonable accommodation is available.” Id.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, expressly defines pregnancy discrimination as a prohibited form of gender discrimination. It does not, however, require employers to provide reasonable accommodations, nor does it protect employees from adverse actions by employers based on requests for accommodations. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) and the ADA Amendments Act of 2008, which generally require reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, do not include pregnancy or related conditions in the definition of “disability.”

New York City recently enacted its own Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, putting the city’s law well ahead of federal and state laws on the issue. The law added a new subsection to the provisions of the New York City Human Rights Law on unlawful discriminatory practices, making it unlawful for an employer to refuse a reasonable accommodation for an employee because of “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition” that he or she needs in order to do the job. NYC Admin. Law § 8-107(22). A bill introduced in the New York Senate, S1479, would make similar amendments to the New York State Human Rights Law, NY Exec. L. §§ 292(21-e), 296(1), to require reasonable accommodations for pregnancy. The bill, much like the federal PWFA, remains in committee.

The pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates help employees, former employees, and job seekers in the New York City area assert claims for unlawful employment practices, including discrimination, retaliation, and wrongful termination, under city, state, and federal law. To schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our team, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

EEOC Updates Pregnancy Discrimination Guidelines for First Time in Over Thirty Years, New York Employment Attorney Blog, July 17, 2014
New York Assembly Bill Would Improve State Law Protections Against Pregnancy Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, June 26, 2014
Fast-Food Franchisee Settles Pregnancy Discrimination Claim with EEOC, New York Employment Attorney Blog, June 19, 2014

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