Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Women
Perhaps the most important new protection under the New Jersey Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act (NJPWFA) is the right of pregnant women to request a “reasonable accommodation” for conditions related to pregnancy. Under prior law, pregnant employees were only entitled to an accommodation if they suffered a “disability.” But pregnancy alone is not legally or logically a disability. Now, under the new law, women may be entitled to accommodations based on their doctors’ advice simply because they are pregnant.
If you are pregnant and working, we advise that you consult with your doctor about the need for accommodations as early as possible. You should explain your job duties and conditions so that your doctor can determine what changes may need to be made in your job environment to protect you and your baby’s safety, health, and comfort. You should also ask your doctor for a note to give to your employer along with your request for an accommodation. Examples of reasonable accommodations can include:
breaks for increased water intake,
assistance with manual labor,
job restructuring or modified work schedules, and/or
temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work.
It is Illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for requesting an accommodation, and he must grant the request unless he can show that providing the accommodation would cause an “undue hardship” on his business operations. Whether a particular accommodation is an “undue hardship” depends on things like the size of your employer’s business, the type of business, the type of accommodation you are requesting, and whether the accommodation would prevent you from performing the essential functions of your job. For example, if you are a secretary in a large business with lots of employees, but part of your job is to take the trash out, it wouldn’t be an “undue hardship” for your employer to accommodate you while you are pregnant by having someone else take out the trash. If you work in a small warehouse unloading trucks, and you are the only employee your employer has to do the work, accommodating you may be more difficult.
How We Can Help. If you work for a progressive employer who respects women’s rights and willingly accommodates you during your pregnancy, you don’t really need a lawyer. If so, we salute your employer, and congratulate you and wish you and your baby a long and healthy life. But if that were the case, you probably had better things do at this time, and you wouldn’t have read this far.
If your employer is giving you problems over your pregnancy, at Lawrence & Gerges, we can help. If you simply have questions, give us a call. We can explain your rights in more detail and how they relate to your situation. If your employer is giving you a hard time over accommodating your pregnancy, come in for a free consultation. We can get involved, negotiating with your employer to protect you, your baby and your career. It’s astonishing how often employers suddenly begin respecting pregnant women’s rights after they hear from a lawyer.
If your employer refuses to accommodate you and you have to leave your job simply to protect your health and safety, or if your employer retaliates against you for seeking an accommodation, you may have the right to sue for damages. We are experienced trial lawyers and working parents with a background in employment law and a passion for advocating on behalf of pregnant women. We can represent you all the way from investigation through settlement, or, if necessary, at trial. As always, if we believe you have a strong enough case, we will represent you on a contingent basis where you pay no money up front, and we only get paid if and when we recover money for you. (See Silvia’s blog, 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Pay a Lawyer in an Employment Case.)