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Archive for the ‘Pregnancy Discrimination Act’ Category

EMPLOYER ALERT: NEW PREGNANT WORKER LAW STARTS APRIL 1ST

Posted on: January 25th, 2018 by admin

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On April 1, 2018, An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, (“PWFA”) goes into effect.  All employers in Massachusetts should be aware of this law.  The PWFA extends the protections of Massachusetts anti-discrimination law (Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 151B) to pregnant workers within the Commonwealth, and grants additional safeguards for pregnant workers seeking workplace accommodations relating to their pregnancy. The PWFA specifically extends coverage for pregnancy, and related conditions, including lactation.

Essentially, the PWFA applies the reasonable accommodation standards that are used in disability cases to pregnancy, and requires employers to engage in an interactive process and to provide employees reasonable accommodations, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. The PWFA includes a non-exhaustive list of specific accommodations that may be available to pregnant employees, including:

(1)   Time off to recover from childbirth (with or without pay);

(2)   More frequent or longer breaks (with or without pay);

(3)   Temporary transfer to a less strenuous/hazardous position;

(4)   Job restructuring;

(5)   Light duty;

(6)   Private non-bathroom space for expressing breast milk;

(7)   Assistance with manual labor; or

(8)   Modified work schedules.

The PWFA requires the need to engage in an interactive process, which is essentially a dialogue between the employee and employer concerning possible accommodations that may be available.

The PWFA also makes it illegal for an employer to: (1) retaliate against pregnant workers who seek accommodations, (2) refuse to hire an individual who may need an accommodation  relating to pregnancy or the need to express breast milk; (3) require a pregnant or lactating employee to accept an accommodation that does not enable them to perform the essential functions of their job; (4) require a pregnant or lactating employee to take a leave of absence, when other accommodations may be available; and (5) refuse to hire an individual because of her pregnancy ore related condition.

Importantly, all employers covered by the act are required to provide written notification to existing employees of their rights under the PWFA on or before April 1, 2018, and new employees at the start of their employment.

As with other violations of Chapter 151B, employers who fail to comply with the provisions set forth in the PWFA may be liable for back pay, front pay, emotional distress, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs.

 

 

WHEN IS THE DUTY TO ENGAGE IN THE INTERACTIVE PROCESS TRIGGERED?

Posted on: March 27th, 2017 by admin

In MCAD & Amanda LaPete v. Country Bank for Savings, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”) awarded Complainant (Amanda LaPete), a woman who was terminated while on approved leave for post-partum depression, back pay plus $50,000.00 for emotional distress stemming from her employer’s disability discrimination.  Docket No. 10-SEM-02769 (Kaplan, J., February 5, 2017).

While employed by Respondent (Country Bank for Savings), Complainant was granted 17 weeks of leave to give birth, which comprised of accrued sick and vacation time, eight weeks of maternity leave (as permitted by M.G.L. c. 149, § 105D), and an additional four weeks pursuant to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).

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Complainant suffered post-partum depression while on leave and notified Respondent of her disability.  She consistently provided Respondent with updates during her leave, including a timeframe for her return to work.  Notably, Complainant fully intended to return to work with Respondent, yet her health care provider suggested she take further time off due to persistent depression and anxiety.  Complainant requested an additional four weeks of leave, however, Respondent ignored her request and terminated her employment.

The Massachusetts anti-discrimination statute, M.G.L. c.151B, prohibits discrimination by an employer based on disability.  To prove a case of disability discrimination for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, complainant must show: (1) that she is “handicapped”; (2) that she is a “qualified handicapped person” capable of performing the essential functions of her job; (3) that she needed a reasonable accommodation to perform her job; (4) that Respondent was aware of her handicap and the need for a reasonable accommodation; (5) that Respondent was aware, or could have been aware, of a means to accommodate her handicap; and (6) that Respondent failed to provide Complainant the reasonable accommodation.  Hall v. Laidlaw Transit, Inc., 25 MDLR 207, 213-214 (2004).

In Country Bank for Savings, the MCAD Hearing Officer ruled that Complainant established sufficient evidence to prove a prima facie case of disability discrimination for failure to provide a reasonable accommodation by demonstrating that she: 1. was handicapped for purposes of the statute; 2. was qualified to perform the essential functions of her job; 3. required a reasonable accommodation; and 4. adequately kept Respondent informed of her need for an accommodation while out on leave.  The MCAD also found that Complainant’s finite request for extended leave was a reasonable accommodation so that she could cope with her post-partum depression.

The MCAD found that Respondent’s termination of Complainant without engaging in an interactive dialogue about the request for extended leave was a violation of the employer’s duty under the statute.  Importantly, the Hearing Officer stressed in her decision that an employer is not shielded from liability simply by allowing an employee leave under the FMLA.  Rather, the employer has an affirmative responsibility to engage in the interactive process when the employee is preparing to return from leave.

Notably, there was no persuasive evidence that Complainant’s request for extended leave would cause the Respondent an undue burden on its operations or finances.

This decision highlights the requirement that employers understand the timing of when their obligation to engage in the interactive process is triggered.  Though a company’s obligation is clear when an employee explicitly requests an accommodation, employers must also engage in the interactive process when they have reason to believe an employee needs a reasonable accommodation absent a specific request citing to the statute.

 

 

Attorney Belfort Moderates Labor & Employment Law Update Panel at MBA’s 37th Annual Spring Conference

Posted on: May 20th, 2016 by admin

On Friday, May 6, 2016, Bennett & Belfort partner, David E. Belfort moderated the Labor and Employment Update Panel at the Massachusetts Bar Association’s 37th Annual Labor & Employment Law Spring Conference at Suffolk University Law School.

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The Panelists addressed a variety of recent legislative and common law developments in both labor and employment law before a room of about 85 attendees.

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The experienced panelists included labor attorneys Nicole Decter  and Kenneth Bello  in addition to employment counsel Joshua Davis, and Ellen Messing. These seasoned advocates engaged in a spirited dialogue as to the impact of several noteworthy state and federal decisions spanning 2015 and early 2016.

 

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Attorney Belfort Chairs Massachusetts Bar Association Legislative Roundtable on Employment related bills with Three Massachusetts State Legislators

Posted on: December 22nd, 2015 by admin

Bennett & Belfort, P.C. partner, David E. Belfort , co-chaired, along with Margaret Paget and John Tocci a November 24, 2015 round table discussion at the  Massachusetts Bar Association entitled “Legislative Updates on Employment Law with State Legislators” .

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The legislative panelists included Rep. John Scibak, Chairman, Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce Development, Sen. Michael J. Barrett, Vice Chair, Joint Committee on Labor and Workforce  Development and Rep. Kenneth I. Gordon, Vice Chair, Joint Committee on Election Laws and primary sponsor of H1718 .  

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The panelists engaged in a lively discussion in a packed room, providing helpful insights into the legislative process and their views on the likelihood that various pending employment legislation would become law.

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The panelists addressed the following bills:

  •  H1769 – The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
  •  H1718 – An Act Establishing Family and Medical Leave and Temporary Disability Insurance
  •  H1771 – An Act Addressing Workplace Bullying and Harassment
  •  H786  –  the Mental Health Parity Bill, and
  •  H1757 – An Act addressing Non-discrimination Training in the Workplace
  •  S1024 – An Act to establish a living wage for employees of big box retail stores and fast food chains.
  •  Various Minimum Wage initiates.

Supreme Court Clarifies Rules for Accommodating Pregnant Employees

Posted on: June 10th, 2015 by admin

BellyUPS driver Peggy Young became pregnant in the fall of 2006 and was advised by her doctor to restrict lifting to 20 pounds.  Young’s job typically required her to lift up to 70 pounds, and she sought accommodations from UPS to comply with her doctor’s advice.  UPS denied her request and told her to return to work after the pregnancy.  UPS took the position that it could only accommodate lifting restrictions for employees in three specific groups: employees who were considered disabled under the Americans with Disability Act, employees who were injured on the job, and employees who lost their Department of Transportation Driving Certification.  In the past, UPS accommodated workers who were unable to lift heavy objects due to job related injuries only, not physical reasons.  In justifying its denial of Young’s request, UPS asserted that it was exercising neutrality and fairness. 

As a result, Young lost out on several months of pay without medical coverage.  She sued UPS in July 2007 under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”).  The PDA states that pregnant employees “shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”  According to Young, the refusal of UPS to temporarily reassign her job duties or allow co-workers to assist with heavy lifting tasks constituted discrimination in violation of the PDA.  She argued that the PDA required employers to accommodate pregnancy in the same manner they accommodate any temporary disability.  UPS countered that since it only accommodated lifting restrictions for workers who were injured on the job, its refusal to accommodate Young was in keeping with its policy and was not discriminatory.   Both a federal court judge and an appeals court ruled in favor of UPS, stating that the company’s policy was neutral, and the employees whom UPS had accommodated were not comparable to Young because their restrictions were related to distinguishable, job-related factors.  Not satisfied with the interpretation of the PDA, Young took the matter to the Supreme Court which ruled 6-3 in her favor.

Justice Breyer, who authored the decision for the Court, found both the arguments of Young and UPS wanting.  While he didn’t agree with Young that the PDA grants pregnant women a blanket right to accommodations, he also didn’t agree that UPS’ neutrality argument was viable.  Rather, Justice Breyer’s opinion clarified that if an employer chooses to accommodate restrictions caused by some temporary disabilities, the employer must also accommodate the same restriction if caused by pregnancy.

Following the Court’s ruling, Young must now return to Virginia courts and prosecute her discrimination claim under this clarification of the law.  Meanwhile, employers who are subject to the PDA are now on notice that they must accommodate pregnancy-related restrictions to the same extent that they accommodate other disabling conditions when they arise.