Our Boston pregnancy discrimination lawyers represent employees who have been discriminated against because of pregnancy and related conditions. While Massachusetts has taken steps to require most employers to offer unpaid parental leave and adopt earned sick time policies, many workplaces do not offer paid parental or maternity leave unless their corporate policies or handbooks require it. As a result, pregnant employees facing taking parental leave many questions about their legal rights in the workplace, which is governed by a broad array of state and federal laws, and individual company policies.
Pregnant employees are entitled to work under the same conditions as other employees, and state and federal law protect employees from discrimination due to pregnancy. This includes discrimination based on current pregnancy, past pregnancy, potential pregnancy, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, including lactation (in other words, breastfeeding). Massachusetts’ anti-discrimination law (General Laws chapter 151B) explicitly protects employees from discrimination based on pregnancy and related medical conditions. The law also requires employers to grant their employees reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions if such accommodations do not cause an undue hardship on the employer. The law lists examples of the types of accommodations that might be required: more frequent breaks, time off to recover from childbirth, light duty, modification of equipment or seating, modified work schedules, and a private space for pumping breast milk. While the law allows employers to require medical documentation for some accommodations, employers are required to provide the following accommodations with no medical documentation: “(i) more frequent restroom, food or water breaks; (ii) seating; (iii) limits on lifting over 20 pounds; and (iv) private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk.” Workers who seek to avail themselves of these accommodations are protected from reprisal by their employers. The bill that enacted these provisions into law gave examples of adverse actions employers cannot take against employees who request accommodations: denying employment opportunities to someone because they need reasonable accommodations, and refusing to hire someone who is pregnant because of the pregnancy or a condition related to pregnancy (as long as the person is capable of performing the “essential functions” of the job with a reasonable accommodation).
Pregnant employees also have rights under state and federal laws to take leave for pregnancy-related conditions or in connection with childbirth. Disability law also protects pregnant employees: a pregnant worker whose pregnancy-related medical condition qualifies as a disability under the relevant law may seek reasonable accommodations in the workplace (for example, lighter duties); a pregnant worker is also protected from disability discrimination by an employer who treats them as if they is disabled (and therefore refuses to hire them, terminates them, or takes some other adverse action against them, such as reassigning them to a lower-paying position over her objections).
And after a baby is born (including after an adoption), employees are entitled to time to recuperate and to bond with their child; this is often referred to as parental leave. Under the current Massachusetts law, employees are entitled to 8 weeks of unpaid parental leave. In 2018 Massachusetts passed a law that goes into effect in 2021 and will require employers to provide twelve weeks of paid leave. Employees with children are also protected from discrimination based on their family responsibilities.
Our Boston pregnancy discrimination lawyers’ strong advocacy in this area has helped employees obtain substantial settlements when their rights are violated. This area of the law continues to evolve. Employers do not always recognize that they are discriminating when they make assumptions based on stereotypes – i.e., “being nice.” Indeed, some employers may assume that they have taken a generous position – by, for example, steering a pregnant employee away from a tough assignment or client so they can rest – when in fact they have unfairly discriminated against an employee who can and should determine for themselves what work they can complete. We have the expertise to evaluate these complex potential claims, negotiate with employers, and to litigate cases in a variety of forums, including the MCAD, EEOC, and state and federal courts.
If you believe you have been discriminated against because you are pregnant contact Zalkind Duncan & Bernstein at (617) 742-6020 to speak with a pregnancy discrimination lawyer.