Effective January 30, 2014, a new statute in New York City requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation to the needs of an employee for her pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition. It is an affirmative defense “that the person aggrieved by the alleged discriminatory practice could not, with reasonable accommodation, satisfy the essential requisites of the job.”
Specifically, on October 2, 2013, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law the New York City Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, Local Law 78 of 2013 (the “Pregnant Workers Fairness Act,” “Local Law 78,” or the “NYCPWFA”). On September 24, 2013, the New York City Council had approved the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act by a unanimous vote of 47 to zero.
Pursuant to the NYCPWFA, the reasonable accommodations which employers in New York City must provide to pregnant women and those who suffer medical conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth must “allow the employee to perform the essential requisites of the job.” Under Local Law 78, however, an employer need reasonably accommodate a worker only if the worker’s pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition “is known or should have been known by” the employer.
The reasonable accommodations which, the NYCPWFA states, employers in New York City “may” be required to implement to attend to the needs of an employee for her pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition include, but are not limited to, “bathroom breaks, leave for a period of disability arising from childbirth, breaks to facilitate increased water intake, periodic rest for those who stand for long periods of time, and assistance with manual labor.”
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act amends sections 8-102 and 8-107 of the New York City Human Rights Law, N.Y. City Admin. Code §§ 8-101 – 8-131. As with the New York City Human Rights Law generally, Local Law 78 applies to businesses with four (4) or more employees, including individuals properly classified as independent contractors.
Pregnant or childbearing workers whose employers in New York City deny them reasonable accommodations, like employees aggrieved by other discriminatory practices made unlawful by the New York City Human Rights Law, may sue their employers for and may recover, among other remedies, non-capped compensatory damages, punitive damages, and, if they prevail and at the court’s discretion, costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. See N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-502(a), 8-502(f).
The NYCPWFA requires employers in New York City to provide written notice, in a form and manner to be determined by the City Commission on Human Rights, of the right of pregnant or childbearing workers to receive, from their employers, reasonable accommodation of such workers’ needs. Employers must provide such notice (i) to new workers at the commencement of employment and, (ii) by May 30, 2014, to existing workers. Such notice “may” also be conspicuously posted at an employer’s place of business in an area accessible to employees.