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Philadelphia protects pregnant workers from discrimination

CaptureFollowing a new national report revealing that pregnant women face significant barriers in the workplace, the City of Philadelphia passed new legislation that will  improve workplace conditions for pregnant employees. The new amendment to the City’s Fair Practices Ordinance prohibits pregnancy-related discrimination and requires employers to provide reasonable workplace accommodations for employees who have needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. The ordinance extends protections beyond those in the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. It became effective January 20, 2014.

The Women’s Law Project, PathWays, and the Maternity Care Coalition testified to the city council in support of the bill, as did Rue Landau, executive director of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, the agency responsible for enforcing the ordinance. Landau noted that the majority of Philadelphia children—53 percent—are raised by one parent, most often a woman. “Very simply put,” she said, “women cannot afford to lose their jobs or income due to pregnancy or childbirth.” She told the council about some women she has met through her agency that could have benefited from this amendment, among them a waitress dealing with morning sickness who was fired for frequent trips to the bathroom and a nurse who was fired after requesting an extended leave of absence in the wake of a diagnosis of a condition that required rest.

Under the new law, discrimination on the basis of “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition” is specifically defined as a form of sex discrimination. In addition, the ordinance defines the failure to provide reasonable accommodation as an unlawful employment practice. Typical accommodations include restroom breaks, periodic rest for those who stand for long periods of time, assistance with manual labor, leave for a period of disability arising from childbirth, reassignment to a vacant position, and job restructuring.

Aggrieved employees may seek  injunctive and other equitable relief, as well as compensatory damages, punitive damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.

In the state legislature, the new Women’s Health Caucus recently announced bills that would provide similar protections in both the House and Senate. Pennsylvania workers file more pregnancy discrimination charges than in more than 40 other States, yet Pennsylvania law currently offers few protections against pregnancy-related discrimination.

More protection for moms at work

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, federal law now requires employers to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.” Employers are also required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.”

Employers are required to provide a reasonable amount of break time to express milk as frequently as needed by the nursing mother. The frequency of breaks needed to express milk as well as the duration of each break will likely vary. A bathroom, even if private, is not a permissible location under the Act. The location provided must be functional as a space for expressing breast milk. If the space is not dedicated to the nursing mother’s use, it must be available when needed in order to meet the statutory requirement. A space temporarily created or converted into a space for expressing milk or made available when needed by the nursing mother is sufficient provided that the space is shielded from view, and free from any intrusion from co-workers and the public.

Only non-exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) are entitled to breaks to express milk. While employers are not required to provide breaks to nursing mothers who are exempt, they may be obligated to provide such breaks under State laws.

Employers with fewer than 50 employees are not subject to the FLSA break time requirement if compliance with the provision would impose an undue hardship. Whether compliance would be an undue hardship is determined by looking at the difficulty or expense of compliance for a specific employer in comparison to the size, financial resources, nature, and structure of the employer’s business. All employees who work for the covered employer, regardless of work site, are counted when determining whether this exemption may apply.

Employers are not required under the FLSA to compensate nursing mothers for breaks taken for the purpose of expressing milk. However, where employers already provide compensated breaks, an employee who uses that break time to express milk must be compensated in the same way that other employees are compensated for break time. The FLSA’s general requirement that the employee must be completely relieved from duty or else the time must be compensated as work time also applies.

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