Pregnant Workers in NYC Gain Important Workplace Protection

A NYC version of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act has become law in New York City, an outstanding accomplishment. This law will protect those pregnant workers in the five boroughs of the city who need temporary modifications to their work conditions to allow them to continue safely working during pregnancy, with such common sense accommodations as a reprieve from heavy lifting duties, permission to take more frequent water and bathroom breaks, and/or the ability to sit on a stool behind a cash register, instead of standing all day, for example. These protections are long overdue and enormously important to low-wage workers in particular, who are most likely to work physically demanding jobs in retail and food service, and whose workplaces are likely to have little flexibility in their policies. It ensures that pregnant workers who need minor adjustments have the same right to a “reasonable accommodation” as workers who need adjustments because of disabilities unrelated to pregnancy. While women who work for employers with 15 or more employees are already covered by the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act–which will celebrate its 35th birthday next month–the PDA also requires covered employers to treat workers with pregnancy-related limitations the same as they treat workers with limitations arising out of non-pregnancy-related disabilities, but many courts intentionally choose to read the PDA too narrowly, finding, for example, that a woman whose obstetrician has ordered her not to lift more than 15 pounds during her high-risk pregnancy is not “disabled” within the meaning of the statute, leaving the employer free to reject her requests for flexibility, and many women have lost their jobs just when they need their employment the most. Read real stories of misogynistic injustice and why we still need a Pregnant Workers Fairness Act on the national level.

More specifically, some courts have held that women cannot succeed on a pregnancy discrimination claim unless she identifies a non-pregnant employee with nearly identical symptoms working in the same role whom her employer treated better than her, a virtually impossible burden to meet. And under the Americans with Disabilities Act, most US courts have held that ordinary pregnancy is not a disability within the meaning of the law. Time to wake up, smell the coffee, and walk our oft stated but rarely acted upon “family values” talk.