Q. As an employer located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, what do I need to know about accommodations for pregnant employees?
A. Pittsburgh’s City Council recently unanimously passed a new ordinance that expands protections for pregnant employees and their partners and imposes several new requirements on private employers, much like those under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act. The local ordinance became effective on March 15, 2019.
Section 659.02 of Article V, Chapter 659 of the Pittsburgh City Code already treated pregnancy discrimination as a form of sex discrimination. It prohibits employers with five or more employees from discriminating on the basis of sex including “pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical conditions.” The newly added provisions amend and supplement these existing provisions, expanding protections for pregnant employees by making pregnancy its own protected class.
Importantly, the new ordinance makes Pittsburgh one of the first cities to extend protections for partners of pregnant employees. The term “partner” applies broadly to mean “a person of any gender with whom a pregnant person or person with a related medical condition has a relationship of mutual emotional and/or physical support, and does not require a marital or domestic relationship.” The ordinance makes nearly all of the law’s anti-discrimination provisions applicable to partners of pregnant employees.
The law requires employers to initiate an interactive process with pregnant employees who are having an issue with their work performance or conduct at work related to their or a partner’s pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition —regardless of whether the employee has asked for an accommodation. The Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations published written guidance about the ordinance, which explains:
“It is the duty of the employer to initiate a dialogue with an employee (the “interactive process”) when: (a) the employer learns, either directly (e.g., is informed by the employee) or indirectly (e.g., the condition is visible and obvious) that the employee is pregnant, has recently experienced childbirth, or has a pregnancy-related medical condition, or that an employee is the partner of such a person; (b) the employer has knowledge that the employee is having an issue with their performance or conduct at work; and (c) the employer has reason to believe that the performance or conduct issue(s) are related to the employee’s or their partner’s pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.”
If all of those conditions are met, the employer has a duty to initiate the interactive process, whether or not the employee has made a request for accommodation.
The Commission’s guidance identifies examples of reasonable accommodations, including the following: schedule modifications, granting leave requests, modified duties and job requirements (e.g. offering light duty work), and modified work stations (e.g. permitting an employee to sit during her shift). The new ordinance also limits when employers may request medical documentation from pregnant workers and prohibits retaliation against employees who request reasonable accommodations under the new law.
Pittsburgh employers should review their current policies and develop additional policies as needed to comply with the new ordinance’s prohibition of pregnancy discrimination and retaliation, including its applicability to a pregnant employee’s partner and the requirement to initiate the interactive process. For assistance in ensuring that your policies comply with this ordinance, we recommend consulting with labor and employment counsel.