Following the national trend, a bill to be introduced during Colorado’s next legislative session intends to expand protection for pregnancy-related leave. Specifically, the draft bill would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to applicants and employees for conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth. If passed, the bill would mean that employers must engage in an interactive process to assess potential reasonable accommodations, provide notice of employee rights, and refrain from retaliating against employees and applicants that request or use a pregnancy-related accommodation.

With the 2016 Colorado legislative session set to convene on January 13th, here are the highlights of the draft bill.

Reasonable Accommodation Requirement

Under the draft bill, an employer would commit an unfair employment practice if it refuses to make a reasonable accommodation for a job applicant or an employee for conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer’s business. Employers would need to engage in a good-faith interactive process with the employee to determine possible, effective reasonable accommodations.

Most employers should be familiar with the interactive process as it should be used when assessing accommodations for qualified individuals with a disability. Possible reasonable accommodations listed in the draft bill include more frequent or longer break periods, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, job restructuring, light duty, time off to recover from childbirth, acquisition or modification of equipment, seating, assistance with manual labor, modified schedules, and break-time and private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk. Employers would not be required hire new employees, or discharge, transfer, or promote another employee in order to make a reasonable accommodation.

The bill would further prohibit employers from requiring an applicant or employee to accept a reasonable accommodation that the individual chooses not to accept. The bill also would prevent employers from requiring an employee to take leave if there are other reasonable accommodations that may be made. These provisions seem to suggest that the employee has veto power over offered accommodations. This differs significantly from disability law as under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer meets its reasonable accommodation duty if it provides an accommodation that allows the employee to perform the essential functions of his or her job, even if that accommodation is not the one preferred by the employee.

Undue Hardship Analysis 

An “undue hardship” is defined in the bill as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense proven by the employer. Factoring into that determination would be:

  • the nature and cost of the accommodation
  • the overall financial resources of the employer
  • the overall size of the employer’s business with respect to the number of employees and the number, type, and location of the available facilities, and
  • the accommodation’s effect on expenses and resources or its impact on the operations of the employer.

If the employer provides a similar accommodation to other classes of employees, it will be presumed that the accommodation does not impose an undue hardship. Employers would have to rebut that presumption if they fail to offer the same or similar accommodation for pregnancy-related conditions.

Retaliation Prohibited 

Employers would be prohibited from taking adverse action against an employee who requests or uses a reasonable accommodation for a pregnancy-related condition. An adverse action is defined in the bill as a retaliatory action, such as the failure to reinstate the employee to her original job or to an equivalent position with equivalent pay and accumulated seniority, retirement, fringe benefits and other applicable service credits.

Notice and Posting Requirement

If this bill were to become law, employers would be required to provide employees with written notice of their rights under this provision. New employees would have to be provided the written notice at the start of their employment. Additionally, employers would have ten days to provide the notice to individual employees who inform their employer of their pregnancy. There is also a provision to notify existing employees within a specified time after the effective date of the new law. Finally, employers would be required to post the written notice in a conspicuous place at their business in an area accessible to employees.

Likelihood of Bill Passage

Remember that at present, this bill is only a draft and after it is introduced in the House, it will be assigned to a committee. There are many opportunities for legislators to amend, add, or delete provisions in the bill throughout the legislative process.

That said, some form of the bill stands a reasonable chance of passage within the Democratically controlled Colorado House. It has less chance of success in the Republican-controlled Senate. We will watch to see if other legislators add their names as co-sponsors, or if an alternative (perhaps less onerous) bill is introduced in the Senate. We will track this bill and keep you informed of any important developments.