New Jersey Passes Amendment to its Law Against Discrimination to Expand Protections for Pregnant Workers

On January 24, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed an amendment to the state’s Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”), which provides greater workplace protections for women who are pregnant or have recently given birth. Bill S. 2995 sought to strengthen current laws, such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, which forbids employers from firing or refusing to hire a pregnant woman. The bill seeks to address the need of women who become pregnant while they are employed by expressly including pregnancy as a protected status in the NJLAD’s provisions related to anti-discrimination and anti-retaliaton. It prohibits employers from penalizing women for requesting or taking workplace accommodations due to conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth. The law applies to New Jersey employers, landlords, labor unions, lending institutions, and entities offering public accommodations.

Under the new law, employees may request special accommodation by presenting a physician’s note. Such accommodations include periodic rest, bathroom breaks, breaks for increased water intake, assistance with manual labor, temporary transfers to less arduous or hazardous work, or modified work schedules. Employers are required to provide such accommodations for female employees that they know or should know is pregnant or have experienced childbirth.

Employers are only exempt from this obligation if they can prove that the accommodation would cause undue hardship, in view of the following considerations:

  • the overall size of the employer’s business, considering the number of employees, size of the budget and number and type of facilities;
  • the nature and cost of the accommodation needed or requested, in light of the employer’s availability of tax deductions, credits and outside funding;
  • the composition and structure of the employer’s workforce; and
  • the extent to which the accommodation would entail a waiver of an essential job duty as opposed to a nonbusiness necessity.

Despite these strong protections, the new law does not specify the amount of leave employers should offer to employees who are pregnant or recovering from childbirth. However, the law does permit affected employees to demand legal and equitable relief, such as compensatory and punitive damages, reinstatement and attorney’s fees. Furthermore, employees may qualify for disability protection due to pregnancy or childbirth.

Proponents of the bill argued that these heightened protections were needed to mitigate the fact that nearly two-third of first-time mothers currently work while pregnant and the majority continue working even during the last month of their pregnancy. Low-income pregnant employees tend to be more vulnerable to discrimination because they tend to work in unfair, unhealthy work environments, which require more physical labor. Also, they are usually not able to decide when to take their breaks. These conditions may increase risk of suffering a miscarriage.

The Bill was unanimously approved in the New Jersey Senate on November 18, 2013 and in the Assembly by a 78-1 vote. New Jersey follows Alaska, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland and Texas in enacting legislation to protect pregnant women on the job. While Alaska, Texas and Illinois require employers certain employers to provide workplace pregnancy accommodations, Connecticut and Louisiana laws give pregnant workers the right to request a reasonable amount of unpaid leave or be transferred to a vacant position.

If you believe you have been denied workplace accommodation or have suffered retaliation for requesting or using accommodation for pregnancy or childbirth, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.