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NJ and federal law may not provide sufficient protection for employed pregnant women

Over the past 50 years, the composition of the American workforce has changed dramatically. As the years have gone by, an increasing number of women have joined the labor force. Despite the length of time that has passed since women began working in larger numbers, many feel laws protecting women in the workforce have not kept pace.

While some safeguards exist at the federal and state level, pregnant women in the workforce are still largely unprotected. Consequently, two members of the U.S. Congress have introduced legislation to bolster the protections provided to employed pregnant women.

Statistics show that these laws would affect a large number of employees across the country. In New Jersey alone, 65 percent of all pregnant women in 2010 were also in the workforce, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.

Federal and NJ laws provide some protection to pregnant women in the workplace

Currently, the federal law governing pregnant women in the workforce is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. The Act is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and forbids any discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy.” The Act provides that pregnant women “shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes.”

Although the law prohibits employers from firing women specifically because they became pregnant, it has not proven to provide enough security for employed pregnant women. The law does not require employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women on the job – such as allowing them to perform light duty work when they are unable to lift heavy weights.

New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination provides protections similar to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. It prohibits employers from subjecting “people to differential treatment” due to pregnancy. The same criticism can be made of the Law Against Discrimination, as it does not require employers to make any accommodations for pregnant women.

Senators attempting to strengthen pregnancy discrimination law

Accordingly, two members of Congress have introduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The legislation would make it illegal for employers to refuse to make “reasonable accommodations to the known limitations related to the pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” An exception would exist, allowing employers to refuse to provide reasonable accommodations if they can show the “accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business.”

As the legislation has yet to pass, pregnant women in New Jersey continue to be protected only from being treated differently than other employees. If you have been subject to discrimination in the workplace, consulting with a New Jersey employment law attorney will ensure your rights are protected.

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