Written by Michael Arnold
The nation’s broadest anti-discrimination law just got broader – now requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. Existing Federal, state and city laws already protect women against pregnancy discrimination, but none went so far as to require reasonable accommodations. (Remember: the Americans with Disabilities Act, while requiring employers to reasonably accommodate those with qualified disabilities, does not view pregnancy itself as a qualified disability.)
Specifically, the new law (which the Council passed unanimously) prohibits employers from discriminating against employees who are pregnant or have a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth and require employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to such workers. According to the New York City Council, reasonable 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, and assistance with manual labor, among other things.” No accommodation is required however, if it imposes an “undue hardship” on the employer. (The factors an employer should consider in determining whether the accommodation would impose an undue hardship can be found at Subsection 18 here).
As usual, we encourage employers to take any new addition to the City Human Rights Law seriously, because it permits employees to sue their employers (or file a complaint with the Labor Commissioner) and provides for the full array of potential damages, including punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. Although the law will not go into effect until sometime in early 2014, we recommend employers take steps now to train relevant staff members (i.e. supervisors and HR personnel) about the existence of this new requirement, how to process accommodation requests and to refrain from retaliating against employees requesting accommodations. Employers should also implement new (or revise existing) policies and procedures to ensure adequate processing of accommodation requests.