HR Compliance

How 3 States Expanded Pregnancy Discrimination and Family Leave Benefits

By

Kristin Birchell

| Nov 30, 2017

Employees in every state are protected under federal laws pertaining to pregnancy discrimination and family leave benefits (discussed in these earlier blog posts); however, states and localities may pass laws that give additional protections and rights to pregnant employees.

All but five states have laws or interpretive case law in place providing protections against pregnancy discrimination. Such legislation may mirror federal laws, or in some instances expand upon them. While most states (and several cities) have passed laws requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers, at least five states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that provide paid family leave for employees caring for a new child.

Below are highlights of recent, more expansive legislation in three states.

New York

The New York Human Rights Law applies generally to employers with four or more employees. The law defines pregnancy discrimination as a form of sex discrimination and can be treated as a form of familial status discrimination.

Although the law treats pregnancy-related conditions as temporary disabilities, protections for employees go further than those under federal law by requiring employers to provide reasonable accommodations regardless of whether the pregnant employee’s medical condition amounts to a disability. Such accommodations could include extra breaks for bathroom trips or increased water intake.

New York also recently passed legislation requiring employers to provide paid family leave for specified purposes, including the care of a newborn child. In 2018, eligible employees generally will be allowed to take up to eight weeks of paid family leave at 50% of their average weekly wage after the child’s birth. (See “New York to Implement Nation’s Most Comprehensive Paid Family Leave Program” for more details.)

Connecticut

A recent law amending the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act enhances protections for pregnant workers. Now it is unlawful:

  • to refuse to make reasonable accommodations for an employee due to her pregnancy
  • to deny employment opportunities to her or an applicant due to requests for such accommodations
  • to require her to take leave
  • or to limit, segregate or classify her in a way that would deprive her of employment opportunities due to pregnancy

The law also expands the definition of “pregnancy” to include related conditions – such as lactation – and includes more precise definitions of “reasonable accommodations” and what constitutes an “undue hardship.”

Massachusetts

Similarly, the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act goes beyond federal laws to require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees, such as job restructuring or more frequent and longer breaks because of their pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions.

The law requires an employer to engage in a good-faith conversation with a pregnant employee to determine effective, reasonable accommodations that would allow her to perform essential functions of her job. Furthermore, the act indicates that employers may not request documentation from a health care provider when the accommodation requested is for more frequent restroom, food or water breaks; seating; or limitations on lifting over 20 pounds.

Several states have joined New York, Connecticut and Massachusetts in implementing laws that are geared toward combating pregnancy discrimination, providing affected employees with necessary accommodations and providing for paid family leave to care for newborn children. While most of these laws are similar, some differences exist, such as defining what constitutes a “reasonable accommodation” or specific eligibility requirements for paid family leave.

Make sure you’re keeping up-to-date on your state and city’s pregnancy-related laws. The previous posts in our pregnancy discrimination series can be found here:

 

Disclaimer: This blog includes general information about legal issues and developments in the law. Such materials are for informational purposes only and may not reflect the most current legal developments. These informational materials are not intended, and must not be taken, as legal advice on any particular set of facts or circumstances. You need to contact a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction for advice on specific legal problems.

About the Author

Kristin Birchell

As a compliance attorney for Paycom, Kristin Birchell monitors legal and regulatory changes at the state and federal level, with a focus on labor and employment laws, to ensure the Paycom system is updated accordingly. Previously, she served as an attorney at the Oklahoma City law firm Derryberry & Naifeh LLP. Birchell earned a bachelor’s degree and MBA from the University of Central Missouri, and her Juris Doctor from the Oklahoma City University School of Law. Outside of work, she enjoys cooking, hiking, going to the movies and spending time with her husband.

See more posts by Kristin Birchell