For many women workers, the fear of being fired for getting pregnant is a real one. Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace continues to take place throughout the country in all professions.
Pregnant employees, or employees returning from maternity leave, are often passed over for promotions or other advancement opportunities, excluded from client meetings, denied raises or other pay increases, and fired from their employment because of the pregnancy.
Several high publicity pregnancy discrimination lawsuits against large companies, including Walmart, Glencore, Merck, and UPS, have brought attention to the problem. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports a steady rise in the amount of pregnancy discrimination claims filed annually, with over 3,100 complaints filed last year.
The Law on Pregnancy Discrimination
Many pregnant working women are unaware of the legal protections in place to prevent pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Congress initially passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, which made it illegal to treat pregnant women differently than other employees who were similar in the ability or inability to work. Many states went on to issue stronger protections against discrimination.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) was amended in 2014 to expressly prohibit pregnancy discrimination. Pregnancy under the law encompasses pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, including recovery from childbirth. Under the law, an employer may not treat an employee less favorably because of their pregnancy status. Stated differently, an employee may not be fired, demoted, transferred, or have their compensation reduced because of their pregnancy status.
Under the law, unless an employer can demonstrate undue hardship, the employer must provide pregnant employees with reasonable pregnancy-related accommodations upon request. The accommodations requested must be based on the advice of the pregnant woman’s physician.
Examples of pregnancy-related accommodations include:
- Bathroom breaks
- Water breaks and/or being allowed to carry water bottles on the job
- Periodic rest breaks
- Manual labor assistance
- Job restructuring and/or transfer to less strenuous work conditions
- Modified work schedule
Pregnant employees cannot be penalized for requesting an accommodation under NJLAD. Employers cannot adversely change the terms, conditions, or privileges of the employment, including firing an employee based on pregnancy or for making an accommodation request.
Undue Hardship Claims
When an accommodation causes an undue hardship on the employer, the employer may not be legally responsible for making that specific accommodation. Courts will examine several factors in determining whether the accommodation would constitute an undue hardship. By examining the number of employees, types of facilities, and company budget, courts will first consider the overall size of the business.
Another factor is the type of business operations and workplace structure that would be affected by the accommodation. Courts will also consider the type and cost of the requested accommodation by reviewing if there are available tax credits, tax deductions, or outside funding.
One of the most important undue hardship factors is whether the accommodation would require a waiver of an essential requirement of the employee’s job.
To ensure compliance with New Jersey’s pregnancy discrimination laws, New Jersey employers should review their reasonable accommodations policies. An experienced New Jersey Employment discrimination lawyer can assist companies in developing company policies and practices regarding alternative work arrangements or light duty programs for pregnant employees.
Atlantic City Employment Discrimination Lawyers at Levine Staller Handle Pregnancy Discrimination Matters in New Jersey
If you are an employer or employee currently involved in an employment discrimination matter that involves a claim of pregnancy discrimination or failure to provide reasonable accommodations, the experienced Atlantic City employment discrimination lawyers at Levine, Staller, Sklar, Chan & Brown, P.A. are ready to help. Our offices are conveniently located in Atlantic City to assist employers and employees with employment related matters throughout the state of New Jersey. Call us today at 609-348-1300 or contact us online to schedule an initial confidential consultation.