What rights do pregnant workers in New York City have?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, as of 2010, women age 16 and up made up 47 percent of the U.S. workforce. In addition to working part or full-time, a significant percentage of working women in the U.S. are also mothers or plan to one day become mothers. For women who are pregnant or who have recently had a baby, there are numerous normal and natural changes that occur to one’s body that may alter one’s physical needs and abilities.

For example, all pregnant women need to drink more water as do nursing mothers. Additionally, pregnant women need to go to the bathroom more frequently and are advised, especially towards the end of a pregnancy, to avoid standing for long periods of time and lifting heavy objects. For women who have what’s considered a high-risk pregnancy or who experience other physical problems related to a pregnancy, additional restrictions may be necessary to ensure for a mother’s and unborn baby’s health.

Despite these very basic and short-term accommodations that pregnant workers and new moms may need, employers throughout the U.S. refuse to provide any of these common-sense accommodations. Thankfully, roughly two years ago, New York City enacted the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act which requires that employers provide workers who are pregnant or new moms with “reasonable accommodations.”

The PWFA covers all full-time, part-time and contractor workers who work at a company with at least four employees. Examples of reasonable accommodations include water breaks, less physical duties, rest breaks, time off to recover after childbirth and a modified work schedule.

In some cases, an employer may claim that a requested accommodation causes an undue hardship to a business. In other cases, an employer may fire a pregnant employee who cannot perform certain physical job requirements. No pregnant woman or new mother should be punished for wanting to ensure for her own health and safety and that of her unborn child. An attorney who handles employment law matters can assist in fighting against employers who violate the PWFA.

Source: A better balance, “New York City Pregnant Workers Fairness Act,” Dec. 16, 2015

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