A new law prohibits most New York City employers from denying bathroom breaks and other accommodations to pregnant employees beginning Jan. 30, 2014.
New York City is the latest of a growing number of jurisdictions, including California, Connecticut, Maryland and Texas, that mandate some form of accommodation to pregnant employees. These state and local requirements must be satisfied in addition to any accommodations required under federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).
Unlike the ADA, the federal PDA does not require employers to accommodate a pregnant worker. Under the New York City law, however, an employer may no longer refuse a pregnant employee’s request to stay off ladders during her third trimester or keep a bottle of water nearby, even if other employees would not be allowed to do the same.
Employers with at least four employees are subject to the New York City law, which provides examples of reasonable accommodation, including bathroom breaks, leave for a period of disability arising from childbirth, breaks to facilitate water intake, periodic rest for those who stand for long periods of time and assistance with manual labor, among other things. The new law also guarantees accommodations to women recovering from pregnancy or childbirth.
Supporters of the law claimed that pregnant women are often forced to take unpaid leave or are fired for requesting a small accommodation. For example, a New York waitress could be fired because she is eight months pregnant and needs more frequent restroom breaks.
Employers are not required to provide accommodations that cause them undue hardship, including significant added costs. Employers, however, must give new employees written notice of their right to pregnancy accommodation. Notice may include posting employee rights in a conspicuous place.
An employee who believes her employer has refused to provide reasonable accommodation for her pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition can file a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights or bring a lawsuit in court seeking damages, including uncapped punitive damages.
Rita Zeidner is a freelance business writer and former senior writer for HR Magazine.