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DC Employers Must Accommodate Pregnancy, Childbirth, Breastfeeding and Related Conditions

Employment & Labor Legal Update

As of the beginning of 2015, all employers in the District of Columbia are required to provide reasonable accommodation and protection to employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and related medical conditions. Under the Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PPWFA), employers are prohibited from requiring an employee to take leave if the employee can continue to work with a reasonable accommodation, such as more frequent or longer breaks, lighter duty, refrainment from heavy lifting, relocation of the employee’s work area, and the acquisition or modification of equipment or seating. Accommodation also includes time off to recover from childbirth. Employers are required to engage in the interactive process with any employee in need of such accommodation and may not refuse to provide a reasonable accommodation unless doing so imposes an undue hardship.

As a result of this new law, employees affected by pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding are not required to demonstrate that these limitations constitute a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act or the D.C. Human Rights Act (DCHRA), as is the case under the existing federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the DCHRA. The act also prohibits employers from taking adverse action against an employee who requests or uses such reasonable accommodation, including refusing to reinstate the employee to the employee’s original job or an equivalent position when the need for reasonable accommodation ceases.

In response to this legislation, employers should ensure that their employee handbooks, EEO and reasonable accommodations policies provide both that the employer does not discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related conditions and that the employer will provide reasonable accommodation to employees affected by these conditions. In addition, employers should train managers and supervisors how to identify and respond to requests from employees in need of these types of accommodation. The law requires employers to provide a written notice to employees of their PPWFA rights in both English and Spanish: to new employees upon hire; to existing employees within 120 days after the act becomes effective; and within 10 days to any employee who notifies the employer of her pregnancy or other condition covered by this act.

Julie Reddig is an employment attorney at Lerch, Early & Brewer in Bethesda, Maryland. She defends and counsels management in a broad range of matters and disputes involving employment and the workplace, including hiring and discrimination claims made by prospective, current, and former employees. For more information about accommodations in the workplace, contact Julie at (301) 961-6099 or jareddig@lerchearly.com.

Nida Kanwal is a law clerk at Lerch, Early & Brewer in Bethesda, Maryland. She is a third year law  student at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

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