New York Employers Must Provide Reasonable Accommodations to Pregnant Employees

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As of January 19, 2016, an amendment to the New York State Human Rights Law requires New York employers with four or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for an employee’s pregnancy-related medical condition, unless the accommodation places an undue burden on the employer.  The amendment clarifies the prior law, which was unclear whether pregnancy was considered a disability in New York state.  Now it is certain that failing to provide a reasonable accommodation to a pregnant employee constitutes “an unlawful discriminatory practice” and could subject the employer to liability. 

Under the new law, an employee has a “pregnancy-related condition” if a medical condition relating to pregnancy or childbirth inhibits her from performing normal bodily functions.  If the employee requests a pregnancy accommodation, the employer may ask her for the necessary medical information to verify the existence of the condition.  The employer must provide an accommodation to the employee as long as it is reasonable and does not place an undue burden on the employer.  What is reasonable and what constitutes an undue burden will depend on the totality of the circumstances.

The New York pregnancy accommodation amendment follows in the footsteps of New Jersey, which implemented a similar amendment to its Law Against Discrimination on January 21, 2014.  New Jersey law similarly protects those who are “affected by pregnancy” and requires employers to provide those employees with workplace accommodations.

Employers should promptly update their employee handbooks and policies to reflect the new pregnancy accommodation laws.  They should also provide training for their managers to inform them of the obligation to accommodate pregnant employees. 

Connell Foley’s employment law attorneys welcome the opportunity to assist employers in implementing these changes.