Working mothers and soon-to-be-mothers often face challenges in the workplace beyond balancing their many responsibilities. If you are pregnant or a mother, you no doubt see yourself as a mother first and foremost, before an employee. However, your employer is required by New Jersey and Federal Law to treat you with the same respect as everyone else. What’s more, New Jersey employers are required by the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. The PWFA defines “Pregnancy” as “pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, including recovery from childbirth”, so new mothers are protected too.
Accommodations for pregnant workers must be based on the advice of a doctor and include things such as:
- Additional breaks for breast-pumping or extra food- or water-intake
- Assistance with manual labor
- Modifying employee’s schedule for childcare or doctor’s visits
- Temporarily transferring employee to less strenuous work
- Other reasonable accommodations to make pregnancy and early motherhood healthy and safe
Employers are forbidden from retaliating against a pregnancy employee for requesting or receiving accommodations, and accommodations MUST be provided unless the employer can demonstrate that they would put an “undue hardship” on the business. Whether an accommodation would cause an undue hardship depends on a few factors, most notably the size and resources of the business, the cost of the accommodations, and the extent to which the employee would still be able to perform the job she was hired to do.
A recent case, Delanoy v. Twp. of Ocean, decided by the New Jersey Appellate Division in January of 2020, was the first published opinion to construe the New Jersey PWFA. The plaintiff in Delanoy, a pregnant police officer, challenged her department’s policy of making pregnant women use all of their paid leave time before the department would transfer them to light duty. Non-pregnant, injured workers, on the other hand, could be transferred without using up their paid leave. Judge Sabatino held that the policy “unlawfully discriminates against pregnant employees as compared to nonpregnant employees… Such nonequal treatment violates the PWFA.”
Judge Sabatino stated that the PWFA “mandates that accommodations provided to a pregnant worker shall not be provided in a manner less favorable than accommodation or leave provided to other employees who are unable to perform their usual jobs for reasons other than pregnancy.” In other words, whatever accommodations, assistance, or leeway your employer provides sick or injured employees, it must also provide for pregnant employees.
If you believe you have been fired, treated unfairly, or improperly denied accommodations at work, please call or contact Matsikoudis & Fanciullo. We can consult with you for free to determine if you could have a claim under the PWFA or other laws prohibiting discrimination. We have made it our business to enforce the legal rights of workers like you.