D.C. law protecting pregnant workers and reproductive health rights evolving

Pregnancy and reproductive health rights are continually a focus in Washington.

There have been several significant recent strides made regarding pregnancy and reproductive health rights in the workplace. Last year Washington, D.C. passed the Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act of 2014. It went into effect this past March, and provides that employers in D.C. must make reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers. Such accommodations could include more frequent bathroom breaks, providing chairs or stools to workers who would otherwise stand, and allowing pregnant workers to avoid heavy lifting. Shortly after the D.C. law passed, the U.S. Supreme Court found in UPS v. Young that employers could not refuse to accommodate pregnant workers as they would employees with a short-term disability.

The D.C. law also requires employers to allow private space to breast feed and time off when medically necessary to recover from childbirth.

That is not the end of the story, however, as pregnancy discrimination and reproductive health rights continues to be a problem in many workplaces, both in the private and public sector.

And on June 17, members of the House of Representatives inserted language into the federal budget that would prevent D.C. from enforcing the local law regarding discrimination based on D.C.'s Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Act. The law currently prevents employers from discriminating against workers who use contraception or obtain an abortion.

It is unclear whether the controversial measure will pass, however, as numerous critics have attacked the bill as a blatantly discriminatory measure that infringes on women's rights and privacy rights. Still, many lawmakers argue that D.C.'s law is an infringement on First Amendment rights. The ultimate enforceability of D.C.'s law against reproductive health discrimination remains somewhat unclear, although as things currently stand employers cannot discriminate against women who exercise reproductive rights, regardless of the employer's stated beliefs.

The bottom line is pregnancy discrimination is illegal

The good news for D.C. workers is that pregnancy discrimination is against the law. While it would be better if pregnancy discrimination was a non-issue and reproductive health rights were universally respected by employers, at least workers who have experienced an infringement of their rights under the law have legal options.

If you were denied a promotion because of pregnancy discrimination, terminated, or otherwise had your workplace rights violated because of an illegal act of discrimination, you have the right to file a lawsuit that could reinstate you to your position and potentially obtain money damages.

Alan Lescht is an experienced employment attorney practicing out of D.C. He is familiar with workplace protections for both federal employees and workers in the private sector. Contact Alan Lescht & Associates, P.C., to discuss your legal rights and options.

Keywords: Pregnancy discrimination, reproductive health rights, workplace discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, privacy rights.