New Federal Protections for Pregnant Employees

Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnancy and Childbirth

On June 27, 2023, a new federal employment law, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, went into effect.  The Act prohibits employers from:

  • Pregnant woman needs a reasonable accommodation.Denying an employee a reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions unless the employer can show the accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of its business;
  • Requiring an employee who is pregnant, or affected by childbirth or a related medical condition to accept an accommodation that was not the result of an interactive process between the employer and the employee;
  • Denying a job opportunity to an employee because she needs a reasonable accommodation due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions;
  • Requiring an employee to take a paid or unpaid leave of absence if there is another reasonable accommodation it can provide to her due to her pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions; or
  • Firing, demoting, or taking another adverse employment action against an employee because she requested or used a reasonable accommodation for pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical conditions.

Prohibition Against Retaliation

In addition, the Act prohibits anyone from discriminating against an employee because he or she has opposed any practice prohibited by the Act, or because the employee made a claim, testified, assisted, or participated in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under the Act.  It also prohibits anyone from coercing, intimidating, threatening, or interfering with anyone for exercising or enjoying any of their rights under the Act, or because they helped or encouraged someone else to do so.

Which Employees Are Covered?

The Act applies only to employees who work, and job candidates who are seeking to work, for an employers with at least 15 employees, including state employees.  It also applies only to employees and job applicants who (1) can perform the essential functions of their jobs with or with a reasonable accommodation, or (2) temporarily cannot perform the essential functions of their jobs, but can do so in the near future, if their inability to perform the essential functions of their job can be reasonably accommodated.

Damages under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

An employee who wins a case under the Act can recover their past and future lost wages, damages for their emotional distress, punitive damages (capped between $50,000 and $300,000, depending on the size of the employer), and their attorney’s fees and costs.  However, an employer has a defense to paying those damages for claims under the Act, other than claims for retaliation or coercion, if it can prove it made good faith efforts, in consultation with the employee, to identify and provide a reasonable accommodation.

New Jersey’s Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

In many ways, the Act is similar to New Jersey’s Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act, which went into effect in 2020.  However, among other key differences, the New Jersey law is not limited to employers with at least 15 employees.

To learn more about your rights to reasonable accommodations for pregnancy in New Jersey, or to schedule a consultation with one of our employment lawyers, please call us at (201) 777-2250.

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