Last week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed legislation amending the state’s powerful Law Against Discrimination (LAD) to provide increased protection for employees based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The new law, which takes effect immediately, affords protections to pregnant employees beyond those already provided under the LAD, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers in New Jersey will benefit from reviewing their current policies and consulting with counsel to ensure compliance with these changes, as well as with the myriad of state and federal employment discrimination laws.
The new law was overwhelmingly supported in the state Legislature and makes pregnancy a protected characteristic under the LAD. The law also requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee based upon pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, including recovery from childbirth, when the employee requests the accommodation based on her physician’s advice. The law expressly prevents employers from treating pregnant women less favorably than others with similar work abilities who are not pregnant. In addition, it forbids employers from retaliating against an employee in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment for requesting or using an accommodation.
Reasonable accommodations required under the new law are expansive and include bathroom breaks, breaks for increased water intake, periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring or modified work schedules, and temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work.
An employer may still refuse to provide an employee with a reasonable accommodation, however, if the proposed accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the employer. To determine whether such a request poses an undue hardship, the new law sets forth the following factors for consideration:
The overall size of the employer's business, specifically the number of employees, number and type of facilities, and budget size
The type of operations, including the composition and structure of the employer's workforce
The nature and cost of the accommodation needed, taking into consideration the availability of tax credits, tax deductions, and outside funding
The extent to which the accommodation would involve waiving an essential requirement of the job, as opposed to a tangential or nonbusiness necessity requirement
The new law also provides an aggrieved employee with a full range of legal and equitable relief, including compensatory and punitive damages, reinstatement, and attorneys’ fees.