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Your Bump Need Not Bump Up Against Legal Obstacles

New York City may just have become one of the best places to be pregnant while employed; and it’s not only because maternity fashions in the city are some of the best!

Thanks to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who signed into law, an amendment to the NYC Human Rights Law that requires employers with four or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.  Accommodations must be provided, unless the employer can prove that the accommodation would cause an undue hardship.

This wonderful law has been in effect since January 30, 2014. 

The NYC Human Rights Law is more protective of employees who are disabled, than is the federal law, or the state law.

If a pregnant employee needs more frequent bathroom breaks, more flexibility in scheduling to attend medical appointments, breaks to hydrate, rest periods for employees who are on their feet a lot, and help with lifting and moving, then the employer must accommodate said employee, i.e. the employee is entitled to the reasonable accommodation, so that she can perform the essential requisites of the job.  It’s illegal for an employer to refuse to grant such a reasonable accommodation when the employee’s pregnancy, or related medical condition is known, or should have been known, by the employer, unless the employer can prove that the accommodation would cause an “undue hardship in the conduct of the [employer’s] business.”

Additionally, if the employer believes that the employee could not with reasonable accommodation “satisfy the essential requisites of the job,” the employer must raise and prove this as an affirmative defense to a claim of discrimination.

In interpreting the NYC Human Rights Law, courts have held that there are NO accommodations that are unreasonable under the NYC Human Rights Law, if they do not cause undue hardship to the employer.    What that means is, whatever accommodations a pregnant employee now requests in New York City must be granted unless the employer can establish that doing so would be an undue hardship.

The NYC Human Rights Law also requires the New York City’s Human Rights Commission to create a written notice of employees’ rights under the NYC Human Rights Law pregnancy accommodation amendment, which must be provided to new employees upon hire and to existing employees.  The notice may also be “conspicuously posted” at an employer’s place of business in areas accessible to employees.

The NYC Human Rights Law is on the books; still, employees must be educated on how to assert their rights under the law.    Pregnant women should obtain legal advice as to when to disclose their pregnancy to the employer, and if they need accommodations, have counsel advise them on how to request them, help prepare documentation that needs to be submitted in support of the accommodation, if any, and be advised on how and when to abide by the record-keeping requirements concerning the accommodation, as required by the employer.

Another reason to retain counsel (even if your employer never finds out you have sought legal advice) is that an employer’s behavior during the process of the pregnant employee requesting an accommodation can be highly stressful to the pregnant employee and cause unnecessary health problems, if the employer does not know or understand the law.   A lawyer’s assistance can be a godsend, and can help educate the employer as well, so the accommodation process goes smoothly for all parties involved.