If you follow this blog with any degree of regularity, you know that one of the most pernicious forms of employment discrimination is pregnancy and/or breastfeeding discrimination. Here in New Jersey, the protections the law has created are strong, and, for some pregnant and/or breastfeeding mothers, they just got stronger through new protocols announced by the Attorney General’s Office (OAG). If you’ve endured discrimination at work because of your pregnancy or because you’re breastfeeding, don’t wait to get in touch with an experienced New Jersey pregnancy discrimination lawyer.
Pregnancy and/or breastfeeding discrimination in employment remains stubbornly frequent, likely reflecting the persistence of harmful stereotypes and biased views against these workers. Unlike, say, 75 years ago, most people today understand that a person shouldn’t be fired or denied employment just because they’re Black or Asian or an atheist, etc. However, far too many people, deep down actually believe that pregnant women and/or breastfeeding women genuinely should not be in the workplace.
The instances have occurred many times and continue to appear in court dockets. In 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling laying out the breadth of coverage of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act and the causes of action it creates.
Last month, the OAG published new guidelines for all law enforcement agencies in New Jersey.
The new protocols cover a wide variety of areas. With regard to a modification of duty, the protocols indicate that reassignment should be an employee-driven process. Specifically, the protocols say that an employer, after an officer notifies them of her pregnancy, “shall not reassign the officer to a modified duty status nor require the officer to take leave unless” the officer asks for it or the officer is “unable to perform the essential functions” of her job.
The new guidelines also lay out the process for a pregnant officer to avoid certain assignments but remain on full duty. The protocols say that an officer, after having disclosed her pregnancy, may request to “avoid an assignment to units in which the work may involve substances or situations that may pose a risk to the health of the officer or the pregnancy.” When the officer makes that sort of request, the employer and employee should engage in an interactive process to identify what accommodations are available.
Equipment and Uniform Modifications as Pregnancy Accommodations
Additionally, the new protocols address an accommodation that might go overlooked by many employers — uniform modifications. The guidelines say that an employer “shall consider the need for uniform and equipment modifications during pregnancy, including uniform color.” Additionally, the guidelines allow full-duty officers to request “pregnancy trousers and shirts through the agency’s uniform supplier.”
Furthermore, the protocols make it clear that a law enforcement agency should only force a pregnant officer onto leave if she is “unable to perform the essential functions” of the job (even with an accommodation,) and a “temporary waiver of the essential function(s) would pose an undue hardship” to the agency.
For breastfeeding officers, the protocols say that their agencies “shall” provide reasonable breaks to nurse or express milk, unless those breaks would impose an undue hardship on the agency.
According to the Attorney General, the protocols serve an extremely important purpose: to “help make policing a more compelling career path for women,” according to an NJ.com report.
The new protocols come two years after the governor signed into law a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to establish “a minority recruitment and selection program” designed to “remedy past discrimination in furtherance of the goal of the agency being comprised of law enforcement officers who reflect the diversity of the population of the community the agency is charged with protecting.”
While that bill became law one month after the death of George Floyd in Minnesota and much of the initial discussion focused upon the (important) need for more officers of color, these new protocols demonstrate the importance not only of enhancing the recruitment and retention of officers of color but also of women who are pregnant (or just gave birth) or may become pregnant in the future.
Pregnant women and breastfeeding moms who are in the workforce deserve to be judged by their abilities to do their jobs, just like everyone else. If you believe you were denied that right, you may be entitled to go to court to hold accountable those responsible for the harm you suffered. The knowledgeable New Jersey pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates are here to help. We’ve spent many years helping New Jersey workers who’ve been held back at work by illegal discrimination and/or harassment to achieve positive results. Contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 today to set up a free and confidential consultation.