By Amal Bass, WLP Staff Attorney
In Philadelphia, it is now unlawful for an employer to deny a pregnant employee access to water, bathroom breaks, or any other reasonable accommodation that does not present an undue hardship to the employer.
On January 20, 2014, Mayor Nutter signed into law an amendment to the Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance that makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to fail to provide reasonable accommodations to employees for needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. It is enforced by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations.
The bill was sponsored by Councilmembers Greenlee, Reynolds Brown, and Bass. The Women’s Law Project provided testimony in support of this bill in City Council on November 22, 2013.
This amendment to the Fair Practices Ordinance fills gaps in the protection provided by the current federal and state laws, such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA). The PDA and the PHRA prohibit employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, but many courts have narrowed the protections of these laws by permitting employers to provide accommodations only to workers with limitations arising from on-the-job injuries and by permitting employers to deny all requests for accommodations (when those requests do not arise from ADA-covered disabilities). Meanwhile, the ADA, as amended in 2008 to expand the definition of “disability” to include less severe and temporary impairments, may prohibit employers from denying reasonable accommodations to some pregnant women, but courts have not yet interpreted how the 2008 amendments will apply to women in need of only minor accommodations related to healthy pregnancies.
These gaps in legal protection result in serious consequences for pregnant workers and their families. For example, women may be forced to continue to work under conditions that are hazardous to their health, to exhaust any available leave before the birth of their babies, and/or to leave their jobs. The denial of reasonable accommodations in the workplace can have long-term implications for these women, ultimately resulting in gaps in employment and reduced income throughout their working lives.
With the enactment of this new law, employees in Philadelphia now have a right to reasonable accommodations that will protect their health, the health of their pregnancies, and their economic security. This law gives them rights similar to what they would have in New Jersey, California, Hawaii, and several other states.
It’s time for the rest of Pennsylvania to catch up!