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Washington recently enacted new workplace accommodation protections for pregnant employees. The Healthy Starts Act (RCW 43.10.005):
The following provides additional detail about the new law's requirements.
Accommodations requiring no medical verification and precluding an undue hardship defense. If an employee asks for any of the following, an employer may not request any form of medical verification or claim that allowing it would be an undue hardship:
The first three of these accommodations appear to be relatively minor and should not, generally speaking, cause significant disruption to operations. The lifting restriction may have more of a significant impact on operations depending on the nature of the job.
Accommodations allowing medical verification and an undue hardship defense. If an employee asks for any of the following, an employer may ask for verification and may assert the undue hardship defense:
The catchall accommodation provision. Employers must give "reasonable consideration" to "any further pregnancy accommodation an employee may request." This section envisions an employer consulting information on pregnancy accommodations published by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries and/or the employee's healthcare provider.
Anti-discrimination and retaliation. The Healthy Starts Act forbids employers from:
What is NOT required as an accommodation under the Healthy Starts Act:
Enforcement mechanisms. The law may be enforced either by the Washington Attorney General or by private lawsuit.
Remedies available to prevailing employees. If any employee proves a violation of the act, the employee would be entitled to:
The Healthy Starts Act significantly bolsters the already strong legal protections for pregnant workers in Washington. Washington employers should be particularly careful when faced with a request for accommodation by a pregnant worker, including consulting with counsel before denying such a request.
Michael A. Griffin and Bryan P. O'Connor are attorneys with Jackson Lewis in Seattle. © Jackson Lewis. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission.
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