Pregnant Workers & the Fairness Act

Are you in compliance with the Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act?

If you are an employer in Nevada, you probably are well aware that federal law prohibits you from discriminating against employees and/or potential employees on the basis of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition. Additionally, you probably already understand that you are required to provide reasonable accommodation to such employees. However, many employers are unfamiliar with the Nevada Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act of 2017, adopted during the 2017 legislative session, and its impact on interactions between employers and such employees. In this article, we will review the underlying federal law establishing the baseline for interactions with employees who are pregnant, or suffering from pregnancy related conditions, and discuss how the Act, which went into effect on Oct. 1, 2017, differs from prior law.

In 1978, Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) which expanded protections to pregnant workers provided under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The PDA makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition.

Subsequently, in 1990 Congress enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees suffering from a disability. Congress further expanded protections under the ADA in 2008 by requiring employers to accommodate temporary disabilities. While pregnancy is not classified as a “disability,” if a pregnancy, or related condition, impairs a woman’s ability to complete her essential job functions, under the 2008 amendment an employer is required to provide reasonable accommodation to assist the employee in completing her essential job functions. Under the ADA, an employer, and not the employee, is given the authority to select the accommodation. Accordingly, where an employer offers a reasonable accommodation to an employee, the employee must prove that the accommodation is unreasonable to successfully challenge the employer’s accommodation.

The 2017 Nevada Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act significantly expands protections for pregnant workers, and workers suffering from pregnancy related conditions in Nevada. Specifically, the Act makes it unlawful for an employer who is covered under the Act to engage in any of the following actions against a female employee who is pregnant, or suffers from a pregnancy related condition:

  • Refuse to provide a reasonable accommodation to the employee.
  • Take an adverse employment action against the employee.
  • Deny the employment opportunity to the employee, if she is qualified for the opportunity.
  • Require the employee to accept an accommodation that she did not request or choose.
  • Require the employee take leave from employment, if a reasonable accommodation is available and would allow the employee to remain at work.

Additionally, employers should be aware that their current compliance with federal law, will not ensure compliance with the Nevada Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Act. Specifically, there are four important distinctions between what is required under federal law and what is required under the Act. These differences are:

  • Federal Law is not gender specific. However, the Act only applies to female employees.
  • Under federal law, the employer determines what accommodation is reasonable and may require the employee to use an accommodation selected by the employer. Further, an employer could require an employee to take leave as an accommodation. Under the Act, an accommodation may not be imposed on an employee without her consent, and an employer may not require an employee to take leave. Therefore, under the Act, generally, the employee, and not the employer, chooses her accommodation.
  • Under federal law, an employee may be required to submit a doctor’s certificate establishing that she indeed has a recognized disability and needs accommodation. However, under the Act, the employer may not require an employee to submit an ADA compliant doctor’s certificate. Instead, an employer may only require the employee to provide an explanatory statement from a physician concerning a recommended accommodation.
  • Finally, under federal law, a “disability” is a defined term, and is limited to physical or mental impairments that substantially limit a major life activity. Accordingly, in order to qualify for accommodation under federal law, an employee must be able to prove that he or she suffers from a condition which “substantially limit[s]” one or more major life activity. Under the Act, there is no such limitation to finding an employee suffers from a condition triggering the right to accommodation. Instead, the Act only requires the employee to assert that she is pregnant, or has “any medically recognized physical or mental condition related to pregnancy, childbirth or recovery from pregnancy or childbirth” in order to obtain accommodation from her employer.

Employers should be cognizant of these changes, and the differences between federal and state law. Further, employers should consider seeking competent legal advice should they have any questions concerning compliance with the Act.

See the article at: Northern Nevada Business Weekly

Jordan Walsh is an associate with Allison MacKenzie Law Firm with primary practice in the areas of Labor and Employment Law. Jordan is admitted to practice in Nevada and California.