January 31, 2014
By Larry Cary
The New York City Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (“PWFA”), which amends the New York City Human Rights Law, went into effect on January 30, 2014.
The PWFA prohibits discrimination against pregnant employees and new mothers making it unlawful for an employer to refuse to provide reasonable accommodations for medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. An employer can only deny an employee’s request for an accommodation if such a request would cause an “undue hardship” or if the employee cannot, with reasonable accommodation, satisfy the “essential requisites” of her job. The employer has the burden of proving that the employee’s request for an accommodation would create an undue hardship.
This law was enacted to prevent the dismissal or forced leave of pregnant women, or women recovering from childbirth, who can competently perform their jobs with reasonable accommodations. The PWFA contemplates reasonable accommodations such as transfers to light duty assignments or assistance with manual labor; allowances for bathroom, rest or water breaks; leave to recover from childbirth; or changes to the work environment (e.g. to avoid toxins).
The PWFA covers any employee, including part-time employees and independent contractors, who are pregnant, recovering from childbirth, nursing or experiencing any other pregnancy-related medical condition who works for a New York City employer with any least four employees.
Employers must now provide written notice, in a form and manner to be determined by the NYC Commission on Human Rights, of the right to be free from discrimination in relation to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions to: (1) new employees at the commencement of employment and (2) existing employees by May 30, 2014 . This notice may also be conspicuously posted at an employer's place of business in an area accessible to employees.
Under this new law, unions are treated like employers with regard to their employees.
Larry Cary has practiced labor and employment law for 30 years and is a partner in the law firm of Cary Kane LLP, which is located in New York City.