There are two main federal laws that protect pregnant employees from discrimination: Title VII, which prohibits sex or gender discrimination, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The city of New York recently passed a new law that provides further protection for pregnant employees by securing reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy.
Protection for Pregnant Employees in New York
New York's amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law was signed into law on October 2, 2013 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The New York City Human Rights Law, which is a restatement of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, prohibits employment discrimination based on "pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition."
The new amendment, which goes into effect on January 30, 2014, will require employers to provide reasonable accommodation of the needs of employees for pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions. For an accommodation to be required, it must be established by the employee requesting it that the employer knew or should have known of the pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. Therefore, it is important to notify your employer right away of the extent of your condition and your need for an accommodation in order to properly perform your job. Providing medical documentation of your condition(s), is always the best way to provide such notice.
Types of Accommodations That Are Covered
Like the American with Disabilities Act (ADA), the purpose of New York's law is to allow pregnant employees to continue to perform the essential requirements of their jobs, by allowing them reasonable accommodations. Such accommodations may include:
- Bathroom breaks
- Leave for a period of disability arising from childbirth
- Breaks to facilitate increased water intake
- Periodic rest for those who stand for long periods of time
- Assistance with manual labor
Again, like the ADA, a "reasonable accommodation" is one that does not cause "undue hardship" for the employer. Many factors are considered in deciding whether an actual hardship exists, such as the nature and cost of the accommodation, the overall financial resources of the employer needed to provide the reasonable accommodation (including the number of employees at the facility), the effect on expenses and resources, or any other impact on the actual operation of the business.
As with all employment discrimination laws, this new law provides an affirmative defense should a lawsuit be filed. If an employer can show that the employee requesting the accommodation would still have been unable to satisfy the essential requirements of their position even with the accommodation, then the employer may escape liability.
Notice of These New Provisions Is Required
New York City employers are required to provide written notice of these new provisions to new hires at the start of their employment. Any existing employees, employed before January 30, 2014, must be informed of the provisions by May 30, 2014, which is 120 days after the law becomes effective. We expect many other cities and states including Birmingham to follow this example in taking a proactive stance against pregnancy and sex discrimination.