Connecticut Expands Protections for Pregnant Employees

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

On October 1, 2017, many new laws passed by the Connecticut General Assembly will go into effect. Among these laws, and one that Connecticut’s employers need to take notice of, is “An Act Concerning Pregnant Women in the Workplace” (“Act”) (P.A. 17-118). The Act amends the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (“CFEPA”) and will expand the workplace protections pregnant Connecticut employees have under CFEPA.

CFEPA includes significant protections for pregnant employees that will be unaffected by the Act. Currently, it is unlawful for an employer to terminate a pregnant employee because of her pregnancy, to refuse to provide reasonable leave for pregnancy-related disabilities, and to fail to or refuse to reinstate the pregnant employee to her position with equivalent pay and benefits.

The Act now mandates employer actions regarding non-disabled pregnant workers and increases employer responsibilities when interacting with pregnant employees.

  • The law prevents an employee from being limited, segregated, or classified in a way that deprives her of any employment opportunities due to her pregnancy.
  • Employers cannot discriminate in terms or conditions of employment or deny job opportunities to either current employees or job applicants because they requested a reasonable accommodation due to pregnancy.
  • An employer cannot force an employee to accept a reasonable accommodation if she does not have a pregnancy-related limitation or does not require a reasonable accommodation to do her job.
  • The Act also prohibits an employer from requiring a pregnant employee to take a leave of absence and mandating that she accept a reasonable accommodation.
  • A pregnant employee cannot be retaliated against because she requested a reasonable accommodation.

The Act expressly also defines key terms, such as “pregnancy”, “reasonable accommodation” and “undue hardship.” The most consequential, is the broadening of the meaning of “pregnancy” to include  “pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions, including lactation.”  Previously the anti-discrimination protections only existed for situations involving a pregnancy-related disability and not the state of being pregnant.  

Furthermore, the Act’s definition of pregnancy is significantly broader than the federal definition outlined in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k). The Federal government defines pregnancy as being limited to pregnancy and includes related medical conditions but not all associated conditions. Pregnant Connecticut employees now have workplace protections under CFEPA that exceed the Federal mandates.

The Act defines “undue hardship” and “reasonable accommodation.” An undue hardship is “an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considering the accommodation’s nature and cost, the employer’s overall financial resources, the employer’s size and facilities, and the effect on the employer’s operations.” The Act provides a non-exclusive list of possible reasonable accommodations including: sitting while working, more frequent or longer breaks, periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring, light duty assignments, modified work schedules, temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work, time off for childbirth recovery, and providing break time and appropriate lactation facilities.

Employers are required to inform their employees about their rights during pregnancy. To facilitate the notice requirement, an employer can display a poster with the information in both Spanish and English in a conspicuous place, accessible to employees such as a break room.

Employers must give new employees a written notice of their right to be free from pregnancy discrimination when first hired. Current employees must be notified of these changes in writing by January 29, 2018. Employers must provide a worker with a written reminder of these protections within ten days after an employee informs her employer she is pregnant.

The new protections and definitions will present a host of compliance challenges as employers, courts, and administrative agencies grapple with the boundaries of these new protections and attempt to harmonize them with existing laws.  Each situation will have to be analyzed separately for compliance and to determine an appropriate accommodation if one is requested.  Also, employers must deal with the differing definitions of “pregnancy,” “reasonable accommodation,” and “undue hardship” under the CFEPA and its federal counterparts, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). For example, under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnancy is limited to “pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions” and does not include the Act’s “including, but not limited to, lactation” language. When assessing whether a reasonable accommodation constitutes an “undue hardship,” an employer must consider the differing factors under both the ADA and the CFEPA. Given the challenges associated with complying with the Act’s new requirements, consultation with experienced employment counsel is recommended. If you, an employee, or your company have any questions about these changes to Connecticut’s pregnancy anti-discrimination law, please contact an attorney at Mitchell & Sheahan, P.C. 

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