On October 2, 2013, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (the “Act”). The Act, which amends New York City’s Human Rights Law, prohibits employers from discriminating against workers who are pregnant or have a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, and requires employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to such workers if such accommodation is requested. Under New York City law, a reasonable accommodation is any accommodation that can be made that does not cause an employer an undue hardship.
New Protections for Women
The Act supplements existing laws preventing discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace. The Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, passed by Congress in 1978, prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against persons on the basis of pregnancy, child-birth or related medical conditions, but does not speak to the provision of reasonable accommodations to such workers. In addition, although some parties have tried to use the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) to require employers to provide such accommodations, such attempts have been largely unsuccessful because in general the ADA does not apply to pregnant women unless they have a pregnancy-related disability.
The Act is scheduled to take effect 120 days after its enactment. The Act will apply to all employers with four or more employees, which is consistent with other anti-discrimination provisions found in the Human Rights Law. An individual who believes that he or she has been unlawfully discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition may bring an action in court for damages, injunctive relief and other appropriate remedies, or make a complaint to the NYC Commission on Human Rights. Remedies that can be instituted upon a finding that an employer has engaged in an unlawful discriminatory practice, include, among others (i) the issuance of an order to the employer to “cease and desist” the unlawful discriminatory practice; (ii) awarding back pay and front pay, or paying compensatory damages; and (iii) the imposition of civil penalties up to $250,000.
Employers are advised to review and update their policies and procedures to comply with the new requirements. This would also be a good time to review existing policies related to the ADA and reasonable accommodations.