On October 2, 2013, Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed into law a bill amending the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) to require most New York City employers to reasonably accommodate pregnant workers.  The law applies to all businesses with four or more employees or independent contractors and is designed to prevent discrimination against pregnant workers.

Under the NYCHRL, a “reasonable accommodation” is defined as an accommodation that shall not cause undue hardship in the conduct of the business.  Under the new law, employers must provide an accommodation to pregnant workers unless they can show either that they would face an undue hardship in making a requested accommodation or that the employee seeking the accommodation could not, even if given the requested accommodation, perform her essential job duties.

Factors an employer may consider in determining if the requested accommodation imposes an undue hardship are: the nature and cost of the accommodation, the overall financial resources of the company or facility involved in the request, the number of persons employed at the facility, the effect on expenses and resources, or the impact otherwise on the operation of the facility, the overall financial resources of the employer, the overall size of the business of the employer in relation to the number of employees, the number, type and location of the employer’s facilities, the type of operation of the covered entity, and the geographic separateness, administrative or fiscal relationship of the facility in question.

Under the new law, reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees include bathroom breaks, breaks to facilitate increased water intake, periodic rest for those who stand for long periods, assistance with manual labor and leave for a period of disability arising from childbirth.

The new law also requires employers to give pregnant workers written information about their rights.  Written notice must be provided to all new employees on commencement of their employment, and existing employees within 120 days after the effective date of the new law.

The law allows an employee who believes she has been discriminated against to file a civil lawsuit to seek damages, or changes in policy, or to make a complaint to the New York City Human Rights Commission.  Employers who do not comply can be fined up to $250,000, face imprisonment, be required to change practices, provide compensation or rehire employees who have been discriminated against.

Accommodations for pregnant women are not provided by federal law, making the NYCHRL a significant expansion of rights for New York City employees.  The new law does not make pregnancy a disability, but allows reasonable accommodations in the same manner as those required because of a disability under the NYCHRL.  The New York City pregnancy discrimination law takes effect on January 30, 2014.  Employers in New York City should review their policies and manuals to ensure compliance with the new law.