NJ Expands Job Protection For Pregnant Employees

We are pleased to report that, on January 21, 2014, Governor Christie signed into law an amendment to the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”) that adds pregnancy as a protected classification. The amendment, which became effective immediately, defines “pregnancy” as childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth, including recovery from childbirth.

Prior to this amendment, the NJLAD prohibited discrimination based on gender and disability but did not specifically include pregnancy as a protected class or require reasonable accommodation for pregnant employees if the pregnant employee’s condition did not qualify as a disability under federal or state law. New Jersey now joins several other states, including New York, in prohibiting discrimination against pregnant workers and requiring employers to provide pregnant employees with reasonable accommodations.

The amendment offers the following examples of reasonable accommodation that an employer may be required to provide to employees for “needs related to the pregnancy”:

• Bathroom breaks;
• Breaks for increased water intake;
• Periodic rest;
• Assistance with manual labor;
• Job restructuring or modified work schedules; and
• Temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work.

The employer is obligated to provide accommodations when the employee, based on the advice of her physician, requests the accommodations, unless the employer can demonstrate that providing the accommodation would be an undue hardship on the business operations of the employer. The Amendment does not increase an employee’s rights to paid or unpaid leave in connection with the pregnancy.

Employers with operations in New Jersey should update employee handbooks and policies covering reasonable accommodations and should train managers and human resources personnel on the effect of this new amendment.

Any pregnant employee who encounters resistance or retaliation from her employer for requesting an accommodation because of pregnancy should consult a reputable employment attorney.