Earlier this week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a bill that expressly bans pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for workers on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The new law adds pregnancy to the list of characteristics protected under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). The bill unanimously passed in the New Jersey Senate in November and passed 77-1 in the New Jersey Assembly in early January.
With Gov. Christie’s signature, New Jersey joins eight other states, including Maryland and California, that expressly require some or all employers to provide accommodations to pregnant workers. The law represents a significant change for New Jersey employers because it stands in contrast to federal law that generally does not require accommodations for employees experiencing normal pregnancies.
The new law requires employers in the state to provide reasonable accommodations to female employees whom the employer “knows or should know” are “affected by pregnancy” – i.e., women who are pregnant or have medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth – if the women request accommodations on the advice of their medical providers. Accommodations may 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.” The law expressly provides, however, that it is not meant to increase an employee’s right to paid or unpaid leave.
The law requires that reasonable accommodations be provided unless they pose an “undue hardship.” Factors to be considered in the undue hardship analysis include: (1) the overall size of the employer’s business with respect to the number of employees, number and type of facilities, and size of budget; (2) the type of the employer’s operations, including the composition and structure of the employer’s workforce; (3) the nature and cost of the accommodation needed, taking into consideration the availability of tax credits, tax deductions, and outside funding; and (4) the extent to which the accommodation would involve waiver of an essential requirement of a job as opposed to a tangential or non-business necessity requirement. The law further provides protection from retaliation for employees who request or use a pregnancy-related accommodation.
This law takes effect immediately. If your organization has employees in New Jersey, review your reasonable accommodation policies to determine whether they need to be revised to reflect these changes to the NJLAD. In addition, managers and human resources professionals should be notified about and provided training on these new requirements.