Pregnancy: Know the Scope of Your Rights at Work

Jan 23 2019

The dawn of 2019 may be a good time to think about the milestones ahead.  For some women, one such milestone may be pregnancy.  Becoming pregnant may raise lots of questions, including about work.  These questions might include: “How will my employer react and adjust to my pregnancy?” or “How can I learn about maternity leave?” or “What happens after I take maternity leave?”    

Unfortunately, employers are notoriously bad at enforcing anti-discrimination laws that protect pregnant women.  It is important, then, to know your rights around pregnancy and childbirth.  In 2017, the Connecticut legislature enacted comprehensive anti-discrimination laws expanding the scope of employment protections for pregnant women.  Your workplace rights, therefore, may be more expansive than you know.  

First, Connecticut affords pregnancy protections for a longer duration than the pregnancy itself.  In fact, the statutory definition of “pregnancy” also includes “childbirth or a related condition, including, but not limited to, lactation.”  This means that breastfeeding in the workplace is protected by Connecticut law.  And the statute may even protect women before actually becoming pregnant.  While neither the Connecticut Supreme Court nor any appellate courts have decided the issue, at least one Connecticut trial court has ruled that women perceived as pregnant may not be subjected to discrimination.  See Sieranski v. TJC, Esq., 2018 WL 357915 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2018) (Tyma, J.). 

Second, Connecticut’s 2017 changes more than doubled the workplace protections for pregnant women.  As before, an employer may not use a woman’s pregnancy as the basis for: (A) termination; (B) refusing to grant a reasonable leave of absence for a pregnancy-related disability; (C) denying such an employee compensation to which she is entitled for her pregnancy-related disability; and (D) failing or refusing to reinstate the employee to her original position or its equivalent with equivalent pay and benefits.  But the changes added more restrictions — specifically:

  • (E) limiting, segregating, or classifying the employee in a way that would deprive her of future employment opportunities;
  • (F) creating terms or conditions that discriminate against a pregnant woman seeking employment;
  • (G) failing or refusing to make a reasonable accommodation, unless the employer can show undue hardship;
  • (H) denying employment opportunities because of such a reasonable accommodation request;
  • (I) forcing the employee to take a reasonable accommodation when she does not need or request one;
  • (J) requiring the employee to take a leave of absence when a reasonable accommodation alternative exists; and
  • (K) retaliating against the employee for requesting a reasonable accommodation. 

What is notable about these additional restrictions on pregnancy discrimination in Connecticut is that they protect more than what the employee is already entitled to (i.e. her job, her job title, and her pay before becoming pregnant).  These new provisions also look forward; they are aimed at preserving a woman’s future economic opportunities, facilitating her increased earning potential when she returns from maternity leave, and allowing her to identify the type of reasonable accommodation as the need arises.  The reasonable accommodations that a pregnant woman or new mother can now request include “being permitted to sit while working, more frequent or longer breaks, periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring, light duty assignments, modified work schedules, temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work, time off to recover from childbirth or break time and appropriate facilities for expressing breast milk.”  Conn. Gen. Stat. § 46a-60(a)(2).

What’s more, an employer must provide written notice of the right to be free from discrimination against pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions.  Sufficient notice can include the placement of a poster in an accessible, conspicuous place where employees can easily access the information.  Employers that fail to comply with the notice requirement have violated the statute, and you can address this matter to help other pregnant women access their rights.

If you are pregnant and feel at risk of employment discrimination or have been discriminated against, or if you are suffering discrimination after childbirth and upon your return to work, the Connecticut employment lawyers at Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald & Pirrotti, P.C. have extensive experience in the realm of pregnancy discrimination.  We will work as a team to help you achieve your best possible outcome.  Contact us to learn how we can assist you.

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Pregnancy: Know the Scope of Your Rights at Work

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