NJLAD Now Expressly Prohibits Pregnancy Discrimination

By: Ralph R. Smith, 3rd, Esq.

Until this past January, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”), one of the broadest discrimination laws in the country, did not expressly prohibit discrimination against pregnant women. That has changed due to an amendment to that law, which went into effect on January 21, 2014.   Pregnant women have now been given protected status under the LAD. Under the revised law, along with barring pregnancy-based discrimination in employment, employers are now obligated to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women in the workplace.  These potential accommodations expressly include: bathroom and water breaks, rest periods, help with manual labor, job restructuring and possible transfers to a less strenuous or hazardous job position.  In addition to imposing this reasonable accommodation requirement, the law also prohibits any retaliatory actions against a pregnant woman who asks for or seeks such workplace accommodations.

The revised law also recognizes certain limited exceptions to this accommodation duty.  Where the requested accommodation would impose an undue hardship upon the employer, the accommodation request need not be honored.  In making such an assessment, the revised law requires that, among other things, the employer’s size, type of business, and the expected cost of the requested accommodation be taken into consideration.  Another relevant factor in this analysis involves whether the requested accommodation would constitute a waiver of an essential job function.  Therefore, depending upon how these various factors are judged, the employer may be able to avoid the accommodation requirements of the statute.

The amended LAD has essentially overruled an earlier New Jersey Supreme Court decision which required that pregnancy be treated no differently from any other medical condition or illness under medical leave laws.  With the imposition of an express accommodation duty specifically for the condition of pregnancy, the present law clearly imposes unique obligations for the benefit of pregnant women.

In light of these new requirements, employers should revise all workplace policies that deal with employee accommodation requests and expressly reference the possibility of workplace accommodations for pregnant employees.  Moreover, since termination/failure to hire decisions based upon a woman’s pregnancy status have always been prohibited under federal law, employers should continue to make employment decisions free of any discriminatory bias because of a woman’s pregnancy status.