Understanding New Jersey’s Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act in the Law Against Discrimination.
In March 2021, the New Jersey Supreme Court issued its first opinion addressing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a recent amendment to New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Delanoy v. Twp. of Ocean, 2021 N.J. Lexis 173. Officer Delanoy sued the township police arguing that the two SOPs violated the PWFA in that they treated leave and return to work conditions differently for maternity leave available to female officers and for light duty leave available to all officers. The New Jersey Supreme Court provided guidance and pleading standards when raising a claim under the PWFA, stating that employees were protected against (a) unfair treatment because of their pregnancy or need to breastfeed; (b) employer’s failure to accommodate the employee in their pregnancy or need to breastfeed; and (c) being penalized for the pregnancy or need to breastfeed.
The NJ Supreme Court held that the maternity leave SOP was invalid because the leave and the return to work policies for pregnant women differed materially from the light duty SOP that applied to all employees.
Why do you need to know this?
New Jersey employers are required to accommodate your pregnancy and/or need to breastfeed or pump in the workplace. The PWFA codifies the three specific areas, as outlined above, where pregnant or breastfeeding employees are protected. Employers cannot take negative employment action against you for your pregnancy, nor can they refuse to accommodate your medical needs arising from that pregnancy, nor can they retaliate against you for the pregnancy or for requesting the accommodation.
Employers are required to engage in an interactive discussion about the accommodation you are requesting. They are not required to agree to the accommodation that you are requesting but should have a discussion about it. Employers are also permitted to argue that the accommodation you are requesting would cause an undue hardship upon their business operations, providing a viable affirmative defense.
As you think about how to address your pregnancy or breastfeeding accommodation request with your employer, make sure that it is tailored to medical conditions related to your pregnancy and related leave. Under the PWFA, the accommodation request cannot be about child care issues or any other concerns that you may have about the usual terms and conditions of your work.
The Bottomline: If you believe that you are suffering from pregnancy or breastfeeding related discrimination in your workplace, you should seek legal counsel to make sure you understand your rights and obligations in requesting the reasonable accommodation.