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Pregnant Workers Fairness Act: it’s in effect in New York

A 22-year-old Bronx worker had dreams of going to college where she would study to become a teacher. With a baby on the way, this goal would have to wait just a little bit longer as she continued to work at a thrift store to cover her day-to-day expenses. Taking unpaid leave wasn’t an option for this pregnant woman, but she wasn’t allowed to make the decision.

Already having experienced one miscarriage, this 3-month pregnant worker didn’t want to take any chances. Lifting heavy boxes and other items was part of her normal job description, but a doctor’s note clearly stated that she was to do no such thing. Experience led her to believe that a few months doing something like running the register would be a viable accommodation. Instead, her boss told her that she should just go home and return when she could do her job.

This woman wasn’t terminated, but she was forced to take unpaid leave. Another worker took over her job shortly after, making it seem like her position might not be there when she returned -- despite what the employer said. The situation just didn’t feel right.

When she went to discuss her experience with the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, staff there was unsure of what her rights and legal options might be. After discussions with a legal advocacy group, she learned about the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requiring reasonable accommodations.

The act was signed into law in October and recently went into effect, but it hasn’t received a lot of attention. Neither the employee nor the union staff was even aware of its existence. This woman’s situation wasn’t resolved at the time of the report, but she has hopes that it will be soon based on this legislation.

Employee rights are often talked about on a broad level. For instance, employers cannot discriminate based on gender. But what does this really mean? What counts as a discriminatory act? What legal options does a victim of discrimination have? Have I suffered pregnancy discrimination?

This case is a great example of why an employee that suspects he or she has become a victim of discrimination should consult with a New York employment attorney that is familiar with not only the laws that have been in place for years, but also new laws that provide new avenues for relief.

Source: The New York Times, “Placed on Unpaid Leave, a Pregnant Employee Finds Hope in a New Law,” Rachel L. Swarns, Feb. 2, 2014

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