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Pregnancy Accommodation Law in New York State

When an employee with a disability requests an accommodation, employers must engage in an individualized interactive process/discussion to evaluate and determine the feasibility of the request.

Pregnancy discrimination and accommodations have been a hot topic over the past year. In June 2015, the EEOC published new enforcement guidance,  protections  expanded  in New York State (in October) and last month New York City issued new guidance. 

In New York State,Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the “Women’s Equality Agenda,” which is a collection of eight bills that are designed to strengthen and protect women’s equality. Part of the Women’s Equality Agenda was bill S.8/A. 4272 which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for “pregnancy-related medical conditions” to an employee as long as she is able to perform her job in a “reasonable manner” once the accommodation is received.

The NY State Human Rights Law defines “pregnancy-related condition” as follows:

“a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth that inhibits the exercise of a normal bodily function or is demonstrable by medically accepted clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques; provided, however, that … the term shall be limited to conditions which, upon the provision of reasonable accommodations, do not prevent the complainant from performing in a reasonable manner the activities involved in the job or occupation sought or held.”

The law further defines “reasonable accommodation” as follows:

“actions taken which permit an employee, prospective employee or member with a disability, or pregnancy related condition, to perform in a reasonable manner the activities involved in the job or occupation sought or held … provided, however, that such actions do not impose an undue hardship on the business, program or enterprise of the entity from which action is requested.”

When an employee with a disability requests an accommodation, employers must engage in an individualized interactive process/discussion to evaluate and determine the feasibility of the request. Upon employer request, the employee is required to provide the employer with medical information needed to verify the existence of a pregnancy-related condition for which she has requested an accommodation.

Companies with employees located in New York City should also know the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) contains even more expansive accommodation requirements. While the NY State Human Rights Law requires employers to accommodate a pregnancy-related medical condition, the NYCHRL makes it “an unlawful discriminatory practice” for any private employer to refuse a reasonable accommodation to an employee for “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition.” 

Under the NYCHRL, employers must provide reasonable accommodation for an employee’s pregnancy or childbirth, regardless of whether the employee has a pregnancy-related medical condition. Examples of reasonable accommodations include bathroom breaks, breaks for water intake, periodic rest for those who stand for long periods of time and assistance with manual labor. An employer may only deny an accommodation if: 1) the employee “could not, with reasonable accommodation, satisfy the essential requisites of the job,” or 2) providing an accommodation would place an undue burden on the employer. 

Further, the NYCHRL requires that employers disseminate or conspicuously post a written notice developed by the New York City Commission on Human Rights. The written notice outlines the rights of pregnant workers to be free from discrimination in relation to pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions.

Employers may refer to the EEOC Enforcement Guidance on pregnancy discrimination and related issues for federal guidance.

HR Works Virtual HR Helpline clients may also call (585) 381-8340, option 1 or email the Helpline with questions. 

HR Works, Inc., headquartered at 200 WillowBrook Office Park in Fairport (Rochester), New York, with an office in East Syracuse, is a human resource management outsourcing and consulting firm serving clients throughout the United States. HR Works provides scalable strategic human resource management and consulting services, including: affirmative action programs; benefits administration outsourcing; HRIS self-service technology; full-time, part-time and interim on-site HR managers; HR audits; legally reviewed employee handbooks and supervisor manuals; talent management and recruiting services; and training of managers and HR professionals.