As a society, we understand that pregnant women and new parents need and deserve special treatment—whether that means prenatal medical care, accommodations to protect the pregnancy, or time off work to care for a newborn baby. However, when it comes to an employer or supervisor actually approving special treatment for pregnant workers or new parents, this understanding often flies out the window. If you are an employer or pregnant worker in New Jersey, it’s important that you understand what is required by law to accommodate the condition—especially given a 2021 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling on the matter.
Work Accommodations for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Employees
Depending on the duties required of the job and the nature of the pregnancy, some pregnant women will be unable to perform their jobs as they did before they were pregnant. Under both New Jersey and federal anti-discrimination laws, the employer is required to provide accommodations so that the pregnant employee can safely perform her duties or offer a light-duty assignment instead. For the purposes of anti-discrimination laws, pregnancy is viewed as a form of short-term disability, and employers are held to the same requirements regarding pregnant workers as they are for disabled workers.
Due to the March 2021 New Jersey Supreme Court decision in Delanoy v. Township of Ocean, protections for pregnant and breastfeeding workers are even stronger. As a result of this ruling, “pregnancy and breastfeeding” were added as protected classifications to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD), and the New Jersey Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) was amended to provide for the following three causes of action:
- Unequal or unfavorable treatment of pregnant or breastfeeding employees
- Failure to provide a reasonable accommodation for pregnant or breastfeeding employees
- Illegal penalization of a pregnant or breastfeeding employee for requesting an accommodation
The ruling addressed what is meant by “reasonable accommodation” in stating that employers must grant requests made by pregnant employees that are supported by the advice of a physician. The ruling lists examples including “bathroom breaks, breaks for increased water intake, period rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring or modified work schedules, and temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work.” Accommodations for a breastfeeding mother could include flexible breaks and a private space for pumping breastmilk. If an employer can prove that granting such accommodations would cause an “undue hardship” to the business, they could get an exemption.
Whether you are a New Jersey employer or a pregnant employee, Steinberg Law, LLC can help you understand your rights and responsibilities when it comes to reasonable accommodations. If you have questions, contact us for help.
Maternity & Paternity Leave
Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), most employees have a right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of a child. This leave can be taken before or after the birth, and both the mother and the father have a right to it. New Jersey’s family leave law offers 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of the child, so if you qualify for leave under both the federal and state law, you could take time off under the FMLA before the birth and still have 12 full weeks of leave under the state law.
These laws, along with the New Jersey LAD, prohibit employers from firing workers because they are pregnant or because they have taken unpaid leave to care for their newborns.
Steinberg Law, LLC Represents Employers & Employees
New Jersey employers are governed by a host of complex anti-discrimination laws, and it can be difficult to understand what you are obligated to do. A small business may not be able to make the kinds of accommodations a pregnant or breastfeeding employee requests. On the other hand, as an employee, you have a right to continue working without endangering your unborn baby and to take time off to bond with your newborn.
As an employment and business attorney, Frank Steinberg represents clients on both sides of this issue. If you are a business being sued by an employee, or you are a worker whose rights have been violated, contact our office in Somerville to find out if we can help.