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Help on the Way for Pregnant NYC Employees

Imagine that you have just become pregnant and your doctor tells you that you should not lift anything heavier than ten pounds. You work in a freight department lifting things all day long. You excitedly tell your boss about the upcoming blessed event and let him know about the lifting restrictions. He says there’s no light duty for pregnant employees and sends you home for an unpaid leave of absence.

Just as you’re starting your family, you suddenly have no income, your house is in foreclosure, your bank account gets frozen and you are living on food stamps. How could this be? You’ve heard of people getting a leave of absence under the Family and Medical Leave Act, but that only lasts 12 weeks and you’re just at the beginning of your pregnancy. Plus, FMLA leave is unpaid unless you’ve got enough vacation and sick time saved up, your employer has a policy that pays you for the time off or you’re a member of a union that provides paid sick leave (see previous post). Friends have told you that you can get a reasonable accommodation for a disability (see previous post), but it turns out that if you have a healthy pregnancy, the disability laws don’t consider you disabled…that is, until now.

The New York City Council, appalled by this true story of a brave woman named Angie Welfare, has just passed a law that will require New York City employers with four or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions. So women who have to stand all day may be entitled to sit-down breaks, women who work on an assembly line may be entitled to extra rest room breaks, and women who need flexible time to attend prenatal doctor’s appointments should now be allowed to do so, as long as the reasonable accommodations they seek don’t impose an undue burden on the employer. The bill, which is awaiting Mayor Bloomberg’s signature, will provide needed relief for many.

Congress and the New York State legislature have recently considered similar legislation, so help may be on the way for even more women. In the meantime, assuming the mayor signs the bill, pregnant women in New York City will be better able to support themselves and their families. Their rights can be enforced through the New York City Commission on Human Rights or a lawsuit in court. Under the New York City Human Rights law, a successful plaintiff can receive damages for lost income and benefits and pain and suffering, along with punitive damages and attorneys’ fees. Women who have been illegally fired will be able to seek reinstatement, as well.