Philadelphia PA Pregnancy Discrimination Attorney
Employers with pregnant employees need to be aware of both federal and state laws that govern the rights of pregnant employees in the workplace. The rights of pregnant employees vary from state to state and, at both the federal and state level, the applicability of these laws depends on how many employees an employer has.
Federal Law Regarding Pregnancy Discrimination
Pregnancy discrimination is governed at the federal level by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal to discriminate against someone on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin or sex. Title VII protections apply only to employees who work for an employer with 15 or more employees. These protections apply to private companies, state and local governments, employment agencies, training programs and labor organizations, as well as to the federal government.
In 1978, Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and added the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Under this Act, any employment discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions arising from being pregnant constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII. Women who are pregnant or affected by pregnancy-related conditions must be treated in the same manner in all terms and conditions of employment as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations.
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), an employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because of a pregnancy-related condition as long as she is able to perform the major functions of her job. Employers are also prohibited from treating a pregnant applicant or worker differently in any terms and conditions of work because of her pregnancy, or a pregnancy-related condition. For example, under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforcement guidelines, if an employer has a policy of giving lighter work to temporarily disabled employees, it must make the same accommodations for a pregnant employee if she is temporarily unable to perform all her job duties because of a medical condition related to her pregnancy. Furthermore, if the employer allows temporarily disabled employees to take disability leave or leave without pay, the employer also must allow an employee who is temporarily disabled because of pregnancy related medical condition to do the same.
Although a pregnant employee may become disabled due to a medical condition arising from being pregnant, it is also important to remember that pregnancy itself is not considered a disability. Additionally, the law in this area is unclear at the moment because of a pending United States Supreme Court decision on this subject that will elucidate the extent to which employers must make accommodations for pregnant employees with work restrictions. However, until the Supreme Court issues its opinion, following the EEOC enforcement guidelines is the safest way to avoid pregnancy discrimination?
Under the PDA, pregnant employees are also protected from harassment because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Similar to sexual harassment, these employees are protected from harassment and behavior that results in a hostile or offensive work environment, or that later results in an adverse employment decision.
Employers are prohibited from creating special procedures for determining whether pregnant employees are able to work that are different from any procedures followed for disabled employees. However, if an employer requires employees to submit a doctor’s statement regarding their inability to work before granting leave or paying sick benefits for non-pregnancy related disabilities or sickness, the employer is permitted to require employees affected by pregnancy-related conditions to submit similar statements.
Special policies regarding when a pregnant employee is allowed to return to work are also disallowed under the PDA. An employer cannot prohibit a pregnant employee from working solely because of the fact of the pregnancy as long as the employee can do her job. Additionally, if the pregnant employee has been absent from work as a result of a pregnancy-related condition and recovers, her employer may not require her to remain on leave until the baby’s birth. An employer also may not have a rule that prohibits an employee from returning to work for a predetermined length of time after childbirth.
Employers must have the same policy for how long a job will be held open for a pregnancy-related absence as they would for employees on sick or disability leave. Similarly, employers must have the same policy for how employees on leave because of pregnancy-related conditions will be treated as they do for other temporarily disabled employees for accrual and crediting of seniority, vacation calculation, pay increases and temporary disability benefits.
Under the Affordable Care Act of 2010, Congress created The Nursing Mothers Break Time Provision which requires employers to provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk. Employers are also required to provide a private place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by the employee to express breast milk. However, employers do not have to pay employees for the time spent expressing the breast milk. Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to this provision if compliance with the provision would impose an undue hardship on the employer. Employers with more than 50 employees must comply with the provision regardless of hardship.
Pennsylvania Law Regarding Pregnancy Discrimination
Pennsylvania does not have a statute that directly addresses pregnancy discrimination and the rights of pregnant workers but courts have interpreted the Human Relations Act as protecting pregnant employees. Courts have repeatedly noted that pregnancy is a specifically female condition and discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is equivalent to discrimination on the basis of being female. The Human Relations Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex and The Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission has interpreted this provision to prohibit employers from having written or unwritten policies or practices that exclude women from employment due to pregnancy unless the employer can show that the exclusion is warranted. This Act applies to employers with four or more employees working in Pennsylvania.
Under the Human Relations Act, employers must apply all policies and practices, including leave and benefit policies, equally to those employees who have a disability due to pregnancy or childbirth as to those with non-pregnancy related disabilities Similar to the PDA, employers may not require employees to take leave due to pregnancy or childbirth. For example, an employer may not have a policy in place where the employee must stop working when she reaches the third trimester of her pregnancy regardless of her actual ability to perform her job. Pennsylvania does not have any laws that address the rights of female workers to express breast milk at the work place after having given birth.
New Jersey Law Regarding Pregnancy Discrimination
New Jersey provides broad protections against pregnancy discrimination under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Under this law, employers are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of pregnancy and this law applies to all employers other than religious organizations. Employers with employees in New Jersey must provide reasonable accommodations for women who are pregnant or who have medical conditions or disabilities related to pregnancy and/or childbirth.
Similar to Pennsylvania, New Jersey also does not have any law that specifically address the rights of female workers to express breast milk while at work.
If you have pregnant employees and are concerned about what accommodations must be made for those employees, an experienced labor law attorney can help you navigate your obligations as an employer under both federal and state law.