Your Rights as a Pregnant Employee During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Pregnant employees face a unique set of pregnancy-related stressors as they anticipate giving birth. Many pregnant women understandably experience anxiety regarding job security. Despite federal, state and local governments passing laws that protect pregnant employees, we still have a long way to go before pregnant employees feel entirely safe and empowered in the workplace.

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Pregnant New York Employees Are Facing Anxiety Due to COVID-19

At Tuckner, Sipser, Weinstock & Sipser, LLP, we understand the challenges faced by pregnant women, particularly pregnant New York City employees. If you are pregnant right now and suffering work-related anxiety during the current COVID-19 pandemic, we are here to help.

As attorney Jack Tuckner explains in the video below, the employer must take your pregnancy-based anxiety into account and offer you flexibility and reasonable accommodations. We can help you navigate this challenging time with your company while ensuring that your rights under federal, state and local laws are protected. Contact us today to schedule your free initial consultation.

Challenges Faced by Pregnant Employees in New York

At Tuckner, Sipser, Weinstock & Sipser, LLP, we understand that the coronavirus pandemic has created serious mental health challenges for employees. New York is one of the states that have been hardest hit by the virus. Pregnant women in New York City have been forced to give birth without their support partner due to visitor restrictions in New York City hospitals.

On top of these challenges, pregnant women are rightfully concerned about themselves or their babies contracting coronavirus while giving birth in New York City hospitals, and this concern is now spreading across the nation as the virus surges in several other states. As we will discuss below, pregnant working women enjoy protection under federal and state laws. In particular, New York City employers have an affirmative duty to work with their pregnant employees to offer them work flexibility known as reasonable accommodations for their pregnancy and related medical challenges, including severe anxiety and fears that are exacerbated by the pandemic.

 

The Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008

The legal protection enjoyed by pregnant employees has changed dramatically thanks to the Americans with Disability Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). Specifically, the ADAAA broadens the prior ADA definition of “disability.” In doing so, the law makes it clear that employers should construct protection in favor of broad coverage of individuals. Under these broad definitions, most, if not all medical conditions related to pregnancy will be considered a temporary disability that requires flexibility and a reasonable accommodation, and that includes the requirement that your employer permit you to take a reasonable maternity leave to recover, and if you work anywhere in NY for any employer you are entitled to Paid Family Leave when your baby is born, if you’ve worked for that employer for at least six months before childbirth.

The ADAAA makes it clear that medical conditions related to pregnancy must be considered disabilities under the law. Pregnancy-related anxiety is a medical condition that warrants protection under the ADAAA. Anxiety about having a baby during this crisis can be crushing and make it extremely challenging for a pregnant woman to continue a normal work schedule.

The fact that a woman’s anxiety or emotional distress may be temporary and induced by her pregnancy and the coronavirus pandemic does not disqualify her from being entitled to workplace accommodations. Employers must still engage in an interactive process or cooperative dialogue with pregnant employees to determine her need for flexibility to allow her to continue to remain employed throughout her pregnancy, even if the only reason for that need is temporary or episodic pregnancy-based anxiety, emotional distress, or pre or postpartum depression.

 

Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the FMLA

Pregnancy discrimination is illegal. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits employers from discriminating against pregnant employees. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides employees with 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave to recover from pregnancy, and other medical conditions. Pregnant employees who have worked for a company with at least 50 employees for over a year prior to childbirth will qualify for this protected unpaid time off.

If you are a pregnant employee with anxiety, you likely have a right to take this unpaid time off before the birth of your child. In our current circumstances, pregnancy-related anxiety can be a serious medical condition. Even if you do not qualify for prepartum FMLA leave, you would still be entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave. Our lawyers can help you navigate taking leave due to pregnancy-based anxiety. Please contact us for a free consultation to discuss your concerns.

 

The New York Laws That Protect Pregnant Women

The New York City Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) requires all New York City employers with four or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for childbirth, pregnancy, and related medical conditions. Pregnancy-related anxiety is a medical condition related to pregnancy, and under the PWFA, just the fact that an employee is pregnant entitles her to workplace flexibility and a reasonable accommodation of her schedule and/or job functions.

Unless your employer can demonstrate that providing you with accommodations for your anxiety would cause an “undue hardship,” they must offer you reasonable accommodations. And again, even healthy pregnant women are entitled to workplace accommodations. Women who are suffering from anxiety due to their pregnancy should be offered even greater accommodations.

 

Employers Should Make Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnancy-Related Anxiety

It can be incredibly hard to get through a workday while coping with severe stress, fear and anxiety. Emotional distress and anxiety can cause feelings of fear and panic, intrusive thoughts, and difficulty in handling job stress. What reasonable accommodations can a pregnant woman request under the Americans with Disabilities Act as well as under state and local laws?

First, employers should allow pregnant employees to take time off from work to visit a therapist or doctor during the workday. Employers should allow the employee to take days off when she is experiencing heightened anxiety. If an employee’s medication comes with certain side effects, employers should work to reasonably modify the employee’s work schedule and job duties.

If an employee needs to take breaks during the day for stress relief exercises or to help engage in calming techniques, an employer should make those accommodations. The anxious anticipation of potentially having to give birth alone in a hospital filled with coronavirus patients can make it incredibly difficult to concentrate at work during this historic and unprecedent health crisis.

Employers should make accommodations for pregnant employees with anxiety when it comes to concentration or commuting difficulties. For example, an employee may ask for natural lighting, or to use noise-canceling headphones or white noise machines. In some cases, pregnant employees who are experiencing anxiety can benefit from using whiteboards for organization, or extra support from supervisors when it comes to breaking down large projects into smaller tasks. Pregnant employee coping with orthopedic or other medical challenges are also entitled to flexibility when it comes to difficult commutes to and from work, so make a written request to work remotely from home if this situation describes your pregnancy-based workplace challenge.

 

Contact Our Experienced Women’s Rights Lawyers Today

At Tuckner, Sipser, Weinstock & Sipser, LLP, we focus our legal practice on protecting women’s rights in the workplace. We understand the pressure women are under when it comes to working while pregnant, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. If you are suffering from pregnancy-related anxiety, we can help you navigate requesting accommodations from your employer. Call 212.766.9100 today to schedule your free telephone or virtual consultation.