Pregnant workers: Understand your rights in New Jersey

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Pregnant workers in New Jersey should be aware of their rights in the workplace.

In New Jersey and across the country, an increasing number of pregnant women are remaining in the workforce both during and after their pregnancy. Today, over 60 percent of first-time moms are in the workforce in the United States.

Until this year, these women had few protections when working in New Jersey. Luckily, an amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination now ensures greater protections for working, pregnant women in the state.

The Law Against Discrimination in New Jersey now considers pregnant women a protected class – meaning individuals may not be discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or other medical issues related to pregnancy or childbirth.

In addition, the law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women, so long as the accommodations do not pose an undue hardship on the employer. Among the accommodations employers must consider are:

•· Allowing increased bathroom breaks

•· Permitting employees to carry a water bottle

•· Accepting requests for light duty work

Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against pregnant workers who request accommodations as a result of their pregnancy.

Federal law still lags behind New Jersey

While this amendment to New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination is a step in the right direction, federal law still fails to provide similar protections for pregnant women in the U.S.

Currently, under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, employers are prohibited from treating pregnant workers differently from other workers. Although this law protects women from some forms of discrimination, it does not require employers to allow reasonable accommodations when necessary. For instance, federal law does not currently require employers to provide additional bathroom breaks for pregnant women, as New Jersey law now provides.

In an effort to increase protections for pregnant women across the country, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced in Congress during the last legislative session. Much like the New Jersey law, the proposed legislation would require employers across the country to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers, so long as they did not impose an undue hardship on the business. The bill was not passed into law.

Despite the lack of progress on a federal level, New Jersey’s pregnant workers need not fear, as they are protected by the amendment to the Law Against Discrimination.

If you are pregnant and believe you have been discriminated against in your workplace, you should take action to protect yourself. It is a good idea to seek the advice of an experienced employment law attorney to ensure your rights are safeguarded.