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Paul Zimmerman

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New York City Broadens the Law for Pregnant Employees

On October 2nd, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law an amendment to the New York City Human Rights Law which broadens the scope of that law as it relates to the rights of pregnant employees, requiring employers to provide a reasonable accommodation to pregnant employees.

Prior to this law being passed, it was unclear whether employers had a duty to reasonably accommodate the pregnancy of an employee. None of the laws that would apply to pregnant women, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the New York State Human Rights Law and the New York City Human Rights Law,clearly required employers to provide such reasonable accommodation. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which is a Federal Law, as well as the disability provisions of the New York State and New York City human rights laws, do require an employer to reasonably accommodate a pregnancy-related disability, but pregnancy in and of itself is not considered to be a disability under either of those statutes.  

The New York City Law now makes it clear that employers have a duty to reasonably accommodate a pregnant employee, even in the absence of a disability. The law states that a woman is entitled to a reasonable accommodation due to pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition so that she can perform “the essential requisites of the job.”  

It’s unlawful for an employer to refuse to provide a reasonable accommodation when the employee’s pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition is known, or should have been known by the employer. The one exception is if the  employer can prove that it would be an undue hardship in the conduct of the employer’s business to provide that reasonable accommodation. In that case, no reasonable accommodation is required.

The employer also has an affirmative defense under the statute. If the employer believes that the employee cannot, even with a reasonable accommodation, satisfy the essential requisites of the job, the employer does not have a duty to keep that individual employed. However, this is an affirmative defense and the employer would have to prove that the employee could not satisfy the essential requisites of the job.

The Legislative History provides some examples of a reasonable accommodation under the law:      

    • frequent bathroom breaks     
    • breaks to facilitate increased water intake       
    • periodic rest for those who stand for long periods of time
    • assistance with manual labor

The New York City Law goes into effect on January 30, 2014. We will return to this law as that date approaches.

In this context, it is interesting that this term, the Supreme Court of the United States will be hearing a case involving a female employee who was refused “light duty” by her employer, United Parcel Service (UPS). The Supreme Court will be examining whether the pregnancy discrimination provisions of Title VII require a reasonable accommodation. A decision is anticipated in 2014.  

This blog post is not offered as, and should not be relied on as, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice in specific situations.