Pregnant New York Workers Have Greater Potential Accommodation Rights Than Under Federal Law


The recent NY Times article titled "Miscarrying at Work: The Physical Toll of Pregnancy Discrimination" is an important overview of the challenges faced by many pregnant American workers under current federal law.

“It was the worst thing I have ever experienced in my life,” Ms. Hayes said.

Three other women in the warehouse also had miscarriages in 2014, when it was owned by a contractor called New Breed Logistics. Later that year, a larger company, XPO Logistics, bought New Breed and the warehouse. The problems continued. Another woman miscarried there this summer. Then, in August, Ceeadria Walker did, too.

The women had all asked for light duty. Three said they brought in doctors’ notes recommending less taxing workloads and shorter shifts. They said supervisors disregarded the letters. . . . But refusing to accommodate pregnant women is often completely legal. Under federal law, companies don’t necessarily have to adjust pregnant women’s jobs, even when lighter work is available and their doctors send letters urging a reprieve. . . . It says that a company has to accommodate pregnant workers’ requests only if it is already doing so for other employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” (link)

Fortunately, pregnant women working in New York State and New York City (and several other states) have broader protections than under federal law.

“Outside Washington, there have been fewer roadblocks. At least 23 states have passed laws that are stronger than current federal protections.” (link)

For employers with at least four employees, New York and New York City law explicitly requires employers to reasonably accommodate pregnant workers. This right means that, unless the accommodation would imposes what the laws describes as “an undue hardship” on the employer, the employer is legally required to provide an accommodation to a pregnant worker (physically working in New York). Under some circumstances, pregnant workers working for employers in NYC are covered by this law even if the company classifies its workers as independent contractors.

You can find guidance on the New York State pregnancy discrimination law here and the New York City pregnancy discrimination law here.

Because the potential right to a pregnancy accommodation can be a complicated legal question involving a back-and-fourth “interactive process” with the employer, pregnant workers are well-advised to seek legal guidance as soon as possible after becoming pregnant.