A new New Jersey law prohibits pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and requires employers to provide pregnant employees with reasonable, pregnancy-related accommodations, upon request, absent a showing of undue hardship. California and Maryland are other states that have extended their accommodation requirements to pregnant workers. The New Jersey law, signed by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on January 21, 2014, is effective immediately. The law amends the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-12, which now protects 17 characteristics from discrimination.
The new law requires employers to treat women, who the employer knows or should know are pregnant, no less favorably than non-pregnant employees in their terms, conditions and privileges of employment. Pregnancy is defined as “pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, including recovery from childbirth.”
Moreover, employers must provide the pregnant employee with a reasonable, pregnancy-related accommodation upon request. The law, however, requires that an employee’s request for a pregnancy-related accommodation be “based on the advice of her physician.” Examples of accommodations include bathroom breaks, breaks for increased water intake, periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring or modifying work schedules, and temporary transfer to less strenuous work. These accommodations must be provided unless the employer can demonstrate an undue hardship on its business operations.
The law states that when considering whether an accommodation constitutes an undue hardship, employers should consider the following factors:
- the overall size of its business with respect to the number of employees, number, types of facilities and size of budget;
- the type of operation affected, including the composition and structure of the employer’s workforce;
- the nature and cost of the accommodation needed, taking into consideration the availability of tax credits, tax deductions and outside funding; and
- the extent to which the accommodation would require a waiver of an essential requirement of the employee’s job.
Further, the law provides that employers shall not penalize employees in the terms, conditions or privileges of their employment for requesting an accommodation.
Employers should consider taking the following actions to comply with the new law:
- Review with counsel their policies on reasonable accommodations;
- Review their policies, practices or contractual agreements with respect to alternative work arrangements or restricted/light duty programs; and
- Train managers and supervisors on responding to accommodation requests from pregnant employees.