NYC Human Rights Law

NYC Passes Law Protecting Pregnant Employees From Discrimination

New York City has recently enacted an anti-discrimination law that will go a long way in prohibiting discrimination against pregnant workers. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act amends the NYC Human Rights Law to require NYC employers with four or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations necessary because of pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. The kind of accommodations that the new law requires NYC employers to give pregnant workers include frequent bathroom breaks, breaks to facilitate increased water intake, periodic rest for those workers who stand for long periods of time, assistance with manual labor and a period of recovery from childbirth. If an employer does not provide a pregnant worker a needed accommodation, the worker may sue the employer for damages. In that situation, to escape liability, the employer will have to prove that the requested accommodation would pose an undue hardship (e.g. it would cost too much money or disrupt workplace operations), or that the pregnant worker, even with the requested accommodation, could not perform the essential function of the job. The kind of workplace modifications that pregnant workers need are usually fairly minor and inexpensive, so it is doubtful that employers will succeed in proving that the accommodation would pose an undue hardship. The NYC law is very important because currently federal and NY State anti-discrimination laws do not require employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women. As a result, pregnant workers, deprived of job modifications that would allow them to continue to work through their pregnancy, have lost their jobs. Others have endangered their health by working while pregnant without some accommodation to their schedule or job duties. This is especially true for low-income employees, like cashiers, who have to stand on their feet for long periods or employees who have to lift objects as part of their job. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act assures that pregnant workers do not have to choose between their health and jobs. In addition to New York City’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, seven states have laws that require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women. The federal anti-discrimination law, Title VII, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, prohibits discrimination because of pregnancy or a related medical condition, but it does not require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers, like the NYC law does. The U.S. Congress has left dead in the water a federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act which would obligate employers to accommodate pregnant employees. The last time the bill was introduced neither the House nor the Senate even held a hearing to consider its merits. When Congress fails to do its duty to protect workers from discrimination, municipal and state governments, like in NYC, have to step in.