How a New Federal Law Has Strengthened Employment Protections for Pregnant Workers

Recently, the federal government enacted new laws to strengthen workplace protections for pregnant/breastfeeding workers. This means the law against discrimination based on pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions is more powerful than ever. If you've encountered this type of employment discrimination, you owe it to yourself to contact a knowledgeable New York pregnancy discrimination lawyer and discuss your situation.

The federal government enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978. Nevertheless, workplace discrimination against pregnant workers and workers who are breastfeeding remains a problem, thus necessitating amendments to the existing laws.

President Biden signed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in late December 2022, which went into effect this past June. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission created regulations to implement the PWFA in August. 

The Law of Pregnancy Accommodations

The statute requires covered employers to provide "reasonable accommodations" to any known impairments a qualified worker experiences as a result of her pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition. In the context of the PWFA, "covered" employers include public and private entities with 15 or more employees, and "qualified" means a worker who can perform the essential functions of the job with or without accommodation.

Pregnancy accommodations can take a variety of forms. They might, for example, include moving a workstation closer to the bathroom and/or giving the worker more break time if she needs to urinate exceptionally often, giving her a parking space close to the office if her pregnancy has made walking difficult, or providing her with a new uniform or safety gear that better fits her pregnant body.

You may recognize the phrase "reasonable accommodations" as one that's common in disability discrimination law. Like disability discrimination law, the PWFA forbids employers from establishing accommodations unilaterally and denying the affected worker a voice in the process. According to the EEOC, employers cannot "require an employee to accept an accommodation without a discussion about the accommodation between the worker and the employer." This concept is known in disability discrimination law circles as the good-faith "interactive process," where the employer and employee work together collaboratively to arrive at an appropriate accommodation.

Prohibitions of Involuntary Leave and Retaliation

The PWFA restricts a practice that may ring familiar to many working mothers -- being forced to go on leave. Under the PWFA, the employer cannot force a pregnant worker onto leave so long as reasonable accommodations exist that would allow the employee to keep working.

The PWFA also prohibits denying employment to a qualified candidate simply because she would need a pregnancy accommodation, retaliating against an employee for standing up against pregnancy discrimination (that targeted either herself or other workers,) and interfering with a worker's efforts to exercise her rights under the PWFA.

As with other discrimination laws, there are a few exceptions. Employers need not provide reasonable accommodations if they can demonstrate that accommodating a pregnant worker would impose an "undue hardship" on the employer. According to the EEOC, undue hardship means "significant difficulty or expense." In a worker's pregnancy discrimination action, the employer bears the burden of proving an undue hardship.

It's important to note that the PWFA's requirements are a "floor" obligation. If a state or local government imposes demands above what the PWFA requires, employers in those locations must meet those higher standards.

The experienced New York pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Phillips & Associates understand that pregnancy and new motherhood are both joyous and stressful. As you navigate these challenges, you shouldn't have to endure your employer making your workplace life more difficult... or forcing you off the job entirely. If that's happened to you, contact us online or at (866) 229-9441 to set up a free and confidential consultation today. Our team has helped women harmed by impermissible pregnancy bias across the five boroughs, as well as Nassau and Suffolk counties. We're here to be the powerful and effective voice your case deserves.

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