Philadelphia Enacts Pregnancy Accommodation Law

by Morgan Lewis

An amendment to the city’s ordinance enhances protections for nondisabled employees affected by pregnancy or childbirth and imposes greater accommodation requirements on employers.

On January 20, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter signed an amendment[1] to the city’s Fair Practices Ordinance (Chapter 9-1100 of The Philadelphia Code), expressly banning discrimination based upon pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition and imposing new workplace accommodation requirements on Philadelphia employers. The amendment places Philadelphia among a growing number of jurisdictions that require employers to provide workplace accommodations to employees who are “affected by pregnancy,” regardless of whether those employees are “disabled.”

Impact of the Amendment

Unlike its federal and state counterparts—the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act—Philadelphia’s amended ordinance actually compels employers to make reasonable workplace accommodations for female employees “affected by pregnancy”—i.e., women who are pregnant or have medical conditions relating to pregnancy or childbirth—regardless of whether those employees have been “disabled” by the pregnancy. The ordinance identifies a number of possible accommodations that may be required, including restroom breaks, periodic rest for those whose jobs require that they stand for long periods of time, special assistance with manual labor, leave for a period of disability arising from childbirth, reassignment to a vacant position, and job restructuring.

This new law imposes a significant burden on employers, requiring that they grant the requested accommodations unless doing so would impose undue hardship on the operation of the employers’ businesses. The factors to be considered in the undue hardship analysis include the following: (a) the nature and cost of the accommodations; (b) the overall financial resources of the employer’s facility or facilities involved in the provision of the reasonable accommodations, including the number of persons employed at such facility or facilities, the effect on expenses and resources, or the impact otherwise of such accommodations upon the operation of the employer; (c) the overall financial resources of the employer, including the size of the employer with respect to the number of its employees and the number, type, and location of its facilities; and (d) the type of operation or operations of the employer, including the composition, structure, and functions of the workforce, and the geographic separateness or administrative or fiscal relationship of the facility or facilities in question to the employer.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the amendment is that it extends privileges to employees affected by pregnancy that are unavailable to other employees, including many disabled employees. For example, the law requires an employer to consider job reassignment and job restructuring for pregnant employees, even though these types of accommodations are generally not required for disabled employees under state or federal law. As such, employers with operations in Philadelphia (along with those in other jurisdictions that have recently passed heightened pregnancy accommodation laws like California,[2] Maryland,[3] New Jersey,[4] and New York City[5]) should revisit their existing reasonable accommodation policies to ensure that they are providing required accommodations for pregnant workers—even those who are healthy and not incapacitated by the pregnancy.

From a litigation perspective, the law specifies the affirmative defenses that will be available to employers facing claims under the amended ordinance. In addition to the undue-burden defense described above, an employer will have an affirmative defense if it can show that the employee “could not, with reasonable accommodations, satisfy the requisites of the job.” This language is important because it will allow employers to continue managing the performance of pregnant workers who, even with accommodation, simply cannot perform their jobs. Nonetheless, the impact of this affirmative defense remains to be seen given the amendment’s language suggesting that job restructuring and reassignment may be required accommodations.

Employees aggrieved by a violation of the amended ordinance are entitled to the same remedies that are available for other unlawful employment practices—including injunctive or other equitable relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages, and reasonable attorney fees. Additionally, certain factual scenarios, such as a failure to properly respond to a request for accommodations (e.g., lactation breaks or nursing an infant), may trigger a pregnancy accommodation cause of action, as well as causes of action under the Fair Labor Standards Act and/or Title VII.[6]

As mentioned above, the amendment places Philadelphia squarely in the middle of a significant legislative trend that has been gaining momentum. In the last 18 months, California, Maryland, New Jersey, and New York City have passed similar pregnancy accommodation laws. Several other jurisdictions are, or will soon be, considering comparable legislation. The West Virginia House of Representatives unanimously passed a similar bill on February 5, 2014, and Pennsylvania legislators announced in December 2013 that they will be introducing Pennsylvania’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in the near future. In addition, a federal version of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate in May 2013 but stalled in committee. Several other states—including Alaska, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Hampshire, and Texas—already require some type of pregnancy accommodation.

Notice Requirement

The new law requires that Philadelphia employers provide written notice—in a form and manner to be determined by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations—by April 20, 2014. The notice must be posted conspicuously in an area accessible to employees.

Moving Forward

For employers with operations in Philadelphia, the amendments to the Fair Practices Ordinance may signal that now is the time to revisit or revamp employee handbooks and train human resources and benefits employees on the new requirements in this area. Specifically, the amended ordinance will require most Philadelphia employers to overhaul their reasonable accommodation policies and train human resources professionals and managers regarding when the interactive process is triggered for employees affected by pregnancy, what steps must be followed to ensure effective engagement in that process, and when accommodations must be granted for such employees.

[1]. View the amendment here.

[2]. See our December 28, 2012 LawFlash, “New California Disability Regulations to Become Effective December 30,” available here.

[3]. See our July 1, 2013 LawFlash, “Maryland Enacts Three New Employment Laws,” available here.

[4]. See our January 10, 2014 LawFlash, “New Jersey Assembly Passes Pregnancy Discrimination Bill,” available here, and our January 27, 2014 LawFlash, “New Requirements for New Jersey Employers,” available here.

[5]. See our September 27, 2013 LawFlash, “New York City Offers Greater Protections for Pregnant Workers,” available here.

[6]. See our June 12, 2013 LawFlash, “New Developments Surrounding Lactation Discrimination,” available here.


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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