Jan. 7 — The New Jersey Assembly has given final legislative approval to a bill (S. 2995) that says it would expand employment protections for women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.
The measure, which was approved unanimously in the state Senate Nov. 18, 2013, and by a 78-1 margin in the Assembly Jan. 6, now advances to the desk of Gov. Chris Christie (R).
The governor hasn't indicated how he will act on the legislation, which must be signed by the end of the legislative session Jan. 21 or will die.
The bill adds pregnancy to the many attributes singled out in the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination for protection against bias in employment, housing, public accommodation, union membership, contracts and lending.
The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act bans employers from firing or refusing to hire a pregnant woman, but it doesn't address treatment of women who become pregnant while on the job, state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D), who co-sponsored the measure, said in a statement.
Weinberg said S. 2995 fills the gap by requiring employers to make reasonable accommodations requested by a pregnant employee on the advice of her physician so she can continue to work, as long as the proposed accommodations don't cause the business an “undue hardship.’’
Accommodations may include restroom breaks, permission to carry a water bottle, periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring, a modified work schedule, or a temporary transfer to work that is less physically demanding or hazardous.
Employers are prohibited under the bill from penalizing women for requesting or using a pregnancy-related workplace accommodation.
Weinberg said low-wage workers are especially susceptible to unfair, unhealthy workplace conditions because they are more likely to have physically demanding jobs and less-obliging employers.
“They are frequently denied basic accommodations in work environments that can be hostile to employee flexibility and they are more likely to lose income, insurance coverage and even their jobs,’’ Weinberg said in a statement.
The measure specifies that it has no effect on a worker's rights under law to paid or unpaid leave in connection with pregnancy.
Connecticut and Louisiana give pregnant workers the right to transfer to a vacant position or take a reasonable amount of unpaid leave and Alaska, Texas and Illinois mandate workplace pregnancy accommodations for certain public employees, Martin told Bloomberg BNA Jan. 7.
Martin said her organization maintains that all employers have to provide pregnant workers with reasonable accommodations to comply with the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which requires that pregnant workers be treated the same as other workers with disabilities, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandates reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities.
But some courts have interpreted pregnancy discrimination law narrowly, so state statutes that make those protections unmistakably clear are beneficial, she said.
“We see a lot of interest around this issue in the states,’’ Martin said, citing legislation introduced in 2013 in Wisconsin, New York and Pennsylvania.
She said polls show overwhelming public support for laws mandating employment accommodations for pregnant women and pointed to the near-unanimous vote in the New Jersey Legislature as evidence that lawmakers see the issue as “good policy and good politics.’’
If it is enacted, the bill will be effective immediately.
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