(Guest employment law blog based on US law and practice) There is a time and a place for everything. Federal laws have been put into place to ensure that when an employee is at work they are able to be in a safe, non-hostile, and productive work environment. These have been very specifically put into place to protect the rights of a worker, and sprang from a time when the workplace was rife with sexual harassment, unsafe work conditions, and discrimination based on every possible reason.
Some of the more commonly known and sadly abused laws have to do with the rights of a woman who is pregnant within the work place. Recent legislation introduced by Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn B. Maloney has been proposed to ensure that pregnant women get a level of protection within the work place that is usually reserved only for people with disabilities.
While there is little doubt that referring to pregnancy as a disability will instantly raise ire, there is also no arguing with the fact that when pregnant an employee has very definite needs and a different set of challenges, as opposed to normal circumstances. For example, a pregnant woman cannot travel as much or as easily as a person who is not carrying a baby. As the pregnancy progresses the discomfort and challenges of the hormonal changes increase the risk of accidents due to the relaxation of muscles. For someone who travels extensively for their job, reasonable accommodations such as conference calls and video conferencing wherever possible may be an acceptable solution.
Currently women are protected under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which specifically prevents certain types of behaviors by employers. Terminating a woman because she is pregnant, for example, is a specific violation of this act. Another important protection under this act is disallowing employers from forcing a woman to take maternity leave, and insists that a woman be given the same accommodations as a worker with a disability during pregnancy. On top of ensuring that employers do not discriminate against women who are pregnant, they must also make reasonable accommodations to ensure that their worker has a safe environment for the duration of her pregnancy.
The Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act is designed to ensure, at a Federal level, that employers make reasonable accommodations like providing a stool, water to drink, and disallowing the woman from having to carry heavy boxes. Under this act a company or employer would not be allowed to take away any opportunity from a woman, that would otherwise be available to her if she was not pregnant. A woman who is pregnant cannot be forced to leave if a “reasonable” accommodation would allow her to stay. In other words, this act is designed to enhance the protection of pregnant women and bring it to the level of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
For many employers these are common sense solutions that they are more than happy to implement. In fact many companies already have measures like these, and more, in place to accommodate and make life easier for their pregnant women employees. These are companies that have come to value the loyalty of their workers and go out of their way to make simple and reasonable accommodations that build a lasting value to the worker. On the other hand, there are companies that will not do anything for an employee unless under duress from the Federal statues to do so. Providing water or a stool is not something that should be considered too hard for any employer, but unfortunately many do not see it that way.
Belluck & Fox LLP represents individuals who have been discriminated against because of their race, religion, sex (including pregnancy), sexual orientation, age (over 40), national origin, or disability.