Did you know that where you live can substantially affect your legal rights if you’re pregnant?
Although the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and other federal laws govern employment practices in all 50 states, they only cover companies with 15 or more employees. More importantly, many courts can’t agree on what these laws require employers to do to accommodate pregnant employees. Some states don’t require companies to make even the most basic accommodations—such as allowing pregnant women to carry a water bottle so they can stay hydrated while they’re working—forcing them to suffer health complications, take unpaid leave, or lose their jobs.
Luckily, some states and localities have recognized these shortcomings and are working to fill the gaps left by inconsistent judicial decisions. We’ve looked at recent legal developments across the nation in pregnancy discrimination law and compiled a list of some of the best places for pregnant employees to work and live.
California: San Francisco
The Fair Employment and Housing Act, California’s primary law prohibiting employment discrimination, requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees, if a health care provider recommends them.
In addition, San Francisco law requires employers with 10 or more employees to provide up to nine days of paid sick leave (five days in smaller companies) and prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for using this leave.
As of January 1, 2015, Illinois law requires all employers with one or more employees to offer reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees unless it would impose an undue hardship. The law allows employers to offer a series of accommodations, including:
(1) More frequent or longer bathroom breaks; (2) Breaks for increased water intake; (3) Breaks for periodic rests; (4) Private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk and breastfeeding; (5) Seating; (6) Assistance with manual labor; (7) Light duty; (8) Temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position; (9) The provision of an accessible worksite; (10) Acquisition or modification of equipment; (11) Job restructuring; (12) A part-time or modified work schedule; (13) Appropriate adjustment or modifications of examinations, training materials, or policies; (14) Reassignment to a vacant position; (15 Time off to recover from pregnancy; and (16) Leave necessitated by pregnancy.
In 2014, New Jersey amended its Law Against Discrimination to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, including bathroom breaks, water breaks, periodic rest breaks, assistance with manual labor, modified work schedules or job restructuring, and temporary transfers to lighter duty.
If you’re a Newark resident, you’ll fare even better. Last year the city passed a law requiring employers with 10 or more employees to offer pregnant employees up to five days of paid sick leave; employers with fewer than 10 employees must offer up to three days of paid sick leave.
In April 2015, the Nebraska legislature passed, and the governor signed, the Nebraska Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for the known limitations of an individual who is pregnant, has given birth, or has related medical conditions, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. The law defines reasonable accommodations as including the following:
Acquisition of equipment for sitting, more frequent or longer breaks, periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring, light-duty assignments, modified work schedules, temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work, time off to recover from childbirth, or break time and appropriate facilities for breast-feeding or expressing breast milk.
New York and New York City
In 2015, the New York State legislature passed a bill protecting pregnant women from workplace discrimination, and Governor Andrew Cuomo has indicated that he plans to sign it. The new law requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations to pregnant women unless it would create an undue hardship. Recommended accommodations include extra bathroom breaks, light duty, stools to sit on, and leave for recovery from childbirth.
Pregnant full-time or part-time employees and contractors working for employers with more than four employees in New York City already have the protections afforded by the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), which requires employers to permit pregnant employees to change their work duties or schedule to remain healthy. Sample reasonable accommodations include the following:
- light duty, help with lifting, or a temporary transfer to a less physically demanding position;
- breaks to drink water;
- occasional breaks to rest;
- time off for recovery from childbirth;
- changes to your work environment (e.g., avoiding toxins); and
- a modified work schedule.
Employers must also provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave so employees can care for themselves as well as certain family members.
Last year, Philadelphia enacted a law requiring employers with at least one employee who is not a family member to afford pregnant women reasonable accommodations that will allow them to continue to perform the essential functions of their job. The law includes the following list of possible accommodations:
Restroom breaks, periodic rest for those who stand for long periods of time, assistance with manual labor, leave for a period of disability arising from childbirth, reassignment to a vacant position, and job restructuring.
Rhode Island: Central Falls and Providence
Two Rhode Island cities have gone above and beyond when it comes to protecting pregnant workers.
In 2014, Central Falls passed the Gender Equity in the Workplace Ordinance, which prohibits employers from refusing to provide reasonable accommodations for conditions stemming from pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.
Last year, the city of Providence passed an ordinance that requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for women suffering from conditions relating to pregnancy and childbirth, so long as it does not impose an undue hardship upon them. The law lists a series of permissible accommodations:
More frequent or longer breaks, time off to recover from childbirth, acquisition or modification of equipment, seating, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, job restructuring, light duty, break time and private nonbathroom space for expressing breast milk, assistance with manual labor, or modified work schedules.
In November 2014, Washington, DC’s mayor signed the Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to women suffering from conditions involving their pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, unless they can demonstrate undue hardship. The law describes reasonable accommodations as including the following:
More frequent or longer breaks, time off to recover from childbirth, acquisition or modification of equipment, seating, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, job restructuring, light duty, break time and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk, refraining from heavy lifting, or modified work schedules.
Summing It Up
Many other states and localities are considering changes to their laws accommodating pregnant workers, especially in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the UPS v. Young case.
If you’re expecting and have questions about what your rights are, contact an attorney with experience in laws governing pregnant workers.