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In the BLOG

Virginia cracks down on pregnancy discrimination

In addition to prohibiting discrimination based on new protected classes, Virginia is also strengthening pregnancy discrimination protections in the workplace.  Beginning July 1, 2020, Virginia employees who are pregnant or have medical conditions relating to pregnancy or childbirth, have new rights in the workplace.  Here’s what you need to know:

What is pregnancy discrimination?

Virginia’s current law already prohibits discrimination on the bases of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.  However, the new law includes a list of examples of unlawful discrimination, requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees, and allows courts to award more damages to victims of discrimination.

Examples of unlawful discrimination under the new law include:

  • Firing
  • Non-selection for a position
  • Denial of reasonable accommodations
  • Failure to reinstate to previous/equivalent job after need for reasonable accommodation ends
  • Denial of employment or promotion opportunities
  • Require employee to take leave if another reasonable accommodation is possible
  • Other actions regarding compensation, terms, conditions, and privileges of employment

What are reasonable accommodations for pregnant women?

One of the most important rights under the new law is the right to reasonable accommodations.  In this case, a reasonable accommodation is a change to the work environment, or the way things are usually done, to allow an employee who is pregnant or has a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, to work.  The new law provides a list of examples of reasonable accommodations:

  • Access to/modification of equipment, seating
  • Job restructuring
  • Assistance with manual labor
  • Leave
  • Bathroom breaks
  • Light duty
  • Breaks to express breast milk
  • Modified schedule
  • Private location other than bathroom to express breast milk
  • Temporary transfer to less strenuous/hazardous position

Once you request a reasonable accommodation, your employer must engage in a “timely, good faith interactive process.”  This means that a covered employer must work with you to determine whether the requested accommodation is reasonable and effective, and to discuss possible alternative accommodations.  Under the law, an accommodation is reasonable if it doesn’t impose an “undue hardship” on the employer.  An accommodation is “effective” if it enables you to do your job.

Absent an “undue hardship,” the employer must provide accommodations.  The employer is responsible for proving that an accommodation would cause undue hardship based on the following terms:

  • The nature of the employer’s business
  • The employer’s workforce
  • The size of the employment facility
  • The nature and cost of the accommodation

Who is covered by Virginia’s pregnancy discrimination law?

Generally, Virginia employers who have 5 or more employees must comply with the new anti-pregnancy discrimination law.  Beginning July 1, covered employers must provide employees with information about the prohibition against discrimination on the bases of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions.

How do I file a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit?

If you believe you have a pregnancy discrimination case, you have two choices:

  • File a lawsuit: You may file a lawsuit in general district or circuit court where the employer is located within two years of the discrimination.
  • File an administrative complaint: Alternatively, you may file an administrative charge with the Virginia Office of Civil Rights or a similar local human rights agency within two years of the discrimination. If you file an administrative charge, you must file a lawsuit within 90 days of the date of the Division or agency’s final decision on the charge.

What damages can I recover for pregnancy discrimination?

If you prove that your employer discriminated against you on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition, a court may award you:

  • Back pay
  • Compensatory damages for pain and suffering
  • Equitable relief
  • Temporary and/or injunctive relief
  • Reasonable attorney fees and costs

How to handle pregnancy discrimination at work

If your employer discriminated against you based on pregnancy, denied your request for reasonable accommodations, or retaliated against you, it may be helpful to consult an experienced employment attorney.  An attorney can determine whether anti-discrimination laws apply to your employer and whether your employer discriminated against you.  A lawyer can advise you about discrimination claims you may have under Virginia’s current or new laws, as well as federal laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

If you believe your employer discriminated or retaliated against you, Alan Lescht and Associates, P.C., can help.  Our attorneys represent state and local government workers and private-sector employees in Virginia.  We handle employment cases involving pregnancy discrimination, harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, reasonable accommodations, and other workplace issues.

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