Pregnancy and Childcare Discrimination: What New York and New Jersey Businesses Should Know

Pregnant777Pregnant job applicants and employees have strong protections under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), including protection from discrimination in hiring, job duties, promotion, and termination. Federal law also protects caregivers with responsibility over children, elder relatives, and disabled adults from discrimination in employment, although the law is less explicit in that area. Municipal ordinances prohibit New York City businesses from discriminating against employees and job seekers on multiple bases as well.

Small businesses need to understand their obligations to their employees under anti-discrimination statutes. They must particularly take these responsibilities into account when building their team. Federal and New York laws prohibit businesses from discriminating in employment based on race, gender, age, and other factors. Federal laws, led by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, apply to businesses with fifteen or more employees, while laws in New York City apply to businesses employing at least four people. Small businesses can avoid major complications and legal repercussions by understanding and following these laws.

A public meeting held by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on February 15, 2012 addressed the intersection of discrimination based on pregnancy and discrimination based on caregiving responsibilities. While laws like the Civil Rights Act and the PDA have long protected pregnant employees, discrimination continues to occur quite frequently. In addition to pregnant workers, people with caregiving responsibilities over children or elders report harassment and discrimination from supervisors and co-workers, but their legal rights are not as well-defined. Several panels explored changes in social norms and demographic conditions in the more than thirty years since the PDA became law. The commissioners concluded that several federal laws may provide protections for caregivers, including the PDA, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The PDA amended the Civil Rights Act to add “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” to the list of prohibited acts of discrimination based on gender. A business cannot refuse to hire a person due to pregnancy or any prejudice of co-workers related to the pregnancy. Employment policies at a business cannot treat pregnancy differently from other conditions affecting an employee’s ability to work. If an employee cannot work due to a condition related to pregnancy, a business must treat that employee the same as they would treat any employee with a different temporary disability. As long as a pregnant employee is capable of performing their duties, the employer cannot bar them from work, even if the employee was previously unable to work. The employer must leave a pregnant employee’s job open at least as long as it would leave a job open for anyone else out due to a disability.

Discrimination against caregivers falls under several different statutes. The FMLA, for example, requires employers to allow workers time off for certain family medical emergencies and other situations. Anti-discrimination laws frequently protect employees who act as caregivers if an employer denies them a benefit that the employer would grant to an employee of the other gender, such as an employer denying time off to a male caregiver.

The New York business attorneys at Samuel C. Berger, PC offer fixed-fee packages of legal services to businesses and entrepreneurs who want to do business in New York and northern New Jersey. To speak to a member of our skilled legal team, contact us today online or at (212) 380-8117.

Web Resources:

Transcript, Meeting of February 15, 2012 – Unlawful Discrimination Against Pregnant Workers and Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
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Pending New Jersey Legislation Addresses Lack of Health Insurance, New York & New Jersey Business Lawyer Blog, March 23, 2012
Photo credit: ‘Pregnant777’ by Frank de Kleine (Pregnant) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons