New Protections for Pregnant Employees under New Jersey Law

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On January 21, 2014, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law that adds pregnancy as a protected classification under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”) and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for workers affected by pregnancy, including bathroom breaks, breaks for increased water intake, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring or modified work schedules, and temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work. [1]

This amendment to the LAD covers pregnant women, those who have recently given birth, and those who have medical conditions relating to pregnancy, including recovery from childbirth. As with any other protected classification under the LAD, employers may not refuse to hire, discriminate in the terms and conditions of employment, or terminate the employment of a woman on the basis of her pregnancy. Specifically, the law bans employers from treating a woman that the employer knows or should know is affected by pregnancy in a less favorable manner than any other employee who, while not pregnant, is similarly limited in his/her ability to work. In addition to its increased protections in employment, the law bans pregnancy discrimination in housing, public accommodations, and finance. [2]

The new law further provides that accommodations shall be granted to employees who are affected by pregnancy when requested based on the advice of a physician. [3] Employers are not required to grant accommodations if they would place an “undue hardship” on the business operations of the employer.  The factors to be considered in determining whether an accommodation would impose an undue hardship include the size of the employer’s business and number of employees, the nature and cost of the accommodation, and the extent to which the accommodation would involve waiver of an essential requirement of the job. [4] The law specifically notes that it should not be construed as increasing or decreasing any employee’s rights under the law to paid or unpaid leave in connection with pregnancy. [5]

The new law expands on the protections of the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) enacted in 1978, which prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy in hiring, firing, and other terms and conditions of employment. [6] Significantly, the PDA does not include a specific reasonable accommodation requirement.  Several other states have laws addressing discrimination against pregnant employees, including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Alaska, Texas, and Illinois. [7] New York City enacted a similar law in September 2013 which goes into effect this month, the “NYC Pregnant Workers Fairness Act,” which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and related medical conditions. [8]

New Jersey’s new law goes into effect immediately and applies to all employers in New Jersey. Employers must coordinate with women affected by pregnancy in the same manner as with any employee who is medically restricted in his/her ability to perform the essential functions of his/her job. Particularly important, and as noted above, the law does not alter employers’ responsibilities under existing law with respect to providing paid or unpaid leave in connection with pregnancy. Employers should nonetheless seek counsel to better understand the interplay that now exists between the LAD, federal and state leave laws, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Notes:
[1] 2012 New Jersey Senate Bill No. 2995.

[2] N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:5-12 (f) (g) (h) and (i).

[3] Id. at (s).

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq.

[7] Cal. Gov't Code § 12945; Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60(a)(7); Haw. Admin. Rules § 12-46-107; La. R.S. 23:342(4); Alaska Stat. § 39.20.520(a); Tex. Local Gov't Code § 180.004(b); Ill. Comp. Stat. Ann. § 775 5/2- 102(H).

[8] New York City, N.Y., Local Law No. 78 Int. No. 974-A (2012).