Laws accomodating pregnancy in the workplace
While the new law is an important addition to the Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act (“FEPA”), the overall impact of its obligations is likely diminished by existing requirements under federal law.
The employer has the burden of proving an undue hardship exists.
Importantly, the fact that the employer provides a similar accommodation to other classes of employees (e.g., providing light duty to employees who experienced a workers’ compensation injury) creates a rebuttable presumption the accommodation impose an undue hardship for the employer. The new law specifically lists 10 possible reasonable accommodations (and makes clear this is not an exhaustive list: Employees and prospective employees have the option to accept or decline to accept an accommodation. Even before the new law was enacted, FEPA defined sex discrimination to include pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
However, FEPA did not specifically require employers to accommodate pregnant individuals.
In practical terms, FEPA previously only prohibited employers from treating pregnant employees the U. Supreme Court recently clarified federal law on the issue of accommodating pregnant employees, holding an employee can make out a case of pregnancy discrimination by showing their employer denied a request for an accommodation while at the same time accommodating other employees “similar in their ability or inability to work.” Similarly, federal law already imposes a duty to provide private, non-bathroom space for employees expressing breast milk.
The new law adds subsection 28-5-7.4 to FEPA, and makes it an unlawful employment practice for an employer to refuse to reasonably accommodate an employee’s – or prospective employee’s – limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related condition.
A “related condition” is defined to include, but is not limited to, expressing breast milk for a nursing child.
Raimondo signed legislation requiring Rhode Island employers to provide workplace accommodations for pregnant workers.
The new law, which went into effect immediately, obligates employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for any condition related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.
An employer is not required to provide an accommodation if it can demonstrate the request imposes an undue hardship.
The new law defines undue hardship as “an action requiring significant difficulty or expense to the employer.” To determine whether an undue hardship exists, a reviewing court or agency will assess the nature and cost of the accommodation, the overall financial resources of the employer, and the effect the accommodation would have on the employer’s operations.
Therefore, while the actual impact of the addition of 28-5-7.4 to FEPA may be limited, it will undoubtedly lead to additional claims and lawsuits. While many of the new law’s requirements are duplicative of existing federal law, it is still important for Rhode Island employers to assess their current practices and make necessary adjustments.