Advocating for the Rights of Pregnant and Breastfeeding Employees
When employers deny women employment opportunities, fire them, or otherwise discriminate against them because of pregnancy or breastfeeding demands, they are violating federal and New Jersey laws.
The Atlantic County employment discrimination lawyers at Levine, Staller, Sklar, Chan & Brown, P.A. have been fighting for protection of employee rights for over 40 years. The experienced employment discrimination lawyers at the firm are dedicated to protecting the rights of working mothers, ensuring that they are treated fairly and that their needs are met in the work environment.
On the federal level, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal to discriminate against any employee on the basis of race, religion, sex, age, national origin, or disability. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act provides further protection against discrimination on the basis of a woman’s pregnancy status or medical needs relating to her pregnancy.
In New Jersey, the Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) offers even stronger protections for employees throughout the state. All employers in the state of New Jersey, regardless of size, are subject to the anti-discrimination rules under the NJLAD.
In 2014, New Jersey amended the LAD by passing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), adding pregnancy discrimination to a list of protected classifications covered by the NJLAD.
Any employer who terminates, refuses to hire, demotes, or restricts or fails to accommodate an employee because she is pregnant, or is suffering medical complications relating to her pregnancy, are in direct violation of the LAD and federal laws. Employers cannot limit a pregnant employee’s work schedule or job duties if she is capable of performing them. Nor can employers treat employees differently because they are pregnant. In one case, Roopchand v. Complete Care, the Appellate Division ruled that requiring a pregnant employee to climb a ladder and wash windows, when no other employee had been required to wash windows, and then firing the employee for insubordination, was enough evidence for a jury to determine that the employee was fired because she was pregnant.
If an employee requests a reasonable accommodation, such as light duty, bathroom breaks, period rest, modified work schedules, or other job modifications, the employer may have to grant such requests, unless the requests create an undue hardship on the employer.
Pregnant women are entitled to the same health benefits that are offered to all employees of equal status. If the employee suffers medical complications related to her pregnancy, employers are responsible for reimbursement or the same coverage offered to other employees with medical conditions. Employers must also honor the same temporary disability and sick leave benefits for pregnant employees that are offered to the general workforce.
If a pregnant woman believes she has suffered discrimination directly related to her pregnancy, she can hold her employer liable.
Steps to Take if You Suspect Pregnancy Discrimination
The first step in this process is to speak to the supervisor or manager responsible for the discriminatory actions. If they fail to acknowledge or correct the situation, the next step is to contact the company’s employee relations or human resources department, or management. If this attempt does not rectify the situation, it is best to consult with an experienced employment discrimination lawyer.
If you hire an attorney and prove that you were discriminated against, you may be entitled to reinstatement and/or compensatory damages, including back pay and front pay, and other economic losses, such as benefits, emotional distress, and punitive damages. A prevailing plaintiff under the NJLAD is also entitled to reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.
The NJLAD, as well as federal anti-discrimination laws, protect women from being discriminated against for pregnancy and related medical conditions. Even with this legal protection, some employers make it difficult for women to take care of their breastfeeding needs during the workday. In some extreme cases, women have been fired because they insisted on breastfeeding or expressing their milk during their work shift.
New Jersey and 48 other states across the nation, including Washington, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands, have enacted laws that protect a woman’s right to breastfeed. Employers are now required to provide time and a private area for women to tend to their breastfeeding schedule. The laws also protect a woman’s right to breastfeed in public areas.
What is the Law for Breastfeeding Rights?
As part of the NJLAD, the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law specifically outlines the responsibilities that an employer has toward breastfeeding employees.
- The area provided for a breastfeeding mother to express her milk must be private and accessible.
- The employer must also supply the employee with a reasonable amount of time to tend to her breastfeeding needs. Employers must take into consideration what is needed for a woman to get her breast pumping supplies, report to the private area, tend to her needs, and return to the workplace.
- The break time provided by the employer does not have to be paid, unless the employee is using a paid break to express her milk.
- The private area provided to the mother to pump her breast milk does not have to be a permanent area designated only for her use. So long as the employer provides access and privacy as needed, they are in compliance with the law.
Any female employee that believes she has suffered discriminatory action or has not had her breastfeeding needs met by her employer can hold them accountable by reporting the issue. It is important to consult with an experienced employment discrimination lawyer to ensure that your legal rights are being protected.
Atlantic County Employment Lawyers at Levine Staller Advocate for the Rights of Pregnant and Breastfeeding Employees
If you believe you are a victim of employment discrimination based on pregnancy or breastfeeding, contact the Atlantic County employment lawyers at Levine, Staller, Sklar, Chan & Brown, P.A. at 609-348-1300, or contact us online to schedule a consultation today. Our offices are conveniently located in Atlantic City, New Jersey, serving clients throughout Atlantic County, Ocean County, and Cape May County.