Alan G. Crone Explains New Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
Employment lawyer Alan Crone appeared on Total Information A.M. in St. Louis, Missouri to talk about the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Check out the video below, or check out the transcription of the interview to hear what he had to say! To learn more about pregnancy discrimination, click here to view our discrimination blog.
Transcription of Interview
Megan Lynch: Welcome back to Total Information A.M. with Tom Ackerman. I’m Megan Lynch. A new law expands protections for the newest working mothers. It’s called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.
Joining us to talk about what it means for workers and employers employment law attorney, CEO, and author Alan Crone with the Crone Law Firm. He joins us on the Quiver River electric guest line. Good morning.
Alan Crone: Good morning, Megan. Thank for having me on.
Lynch: Well, thank you for joining us. We’ve got a lot of questions about this law, the first of which is what was happening in the workplace that prompted passage of this?
Crone: Well, I’ve seen hundreds of pregnant workers who announce they’re pregnant in the workforce and immediately start getting hassled about it, just to put it very plainly. So, this law, what it allows the courts to do is to enforce a reasonable accommodation on the employer.
For example, often pregnant workers need to take a break, or maybe they need to have a hydration break or other private time. And this allows that if it’s a reasonable accommodation and not an undue hardship to the employer, they may also need pads or things on the floor to allow for standing. And this just gives them a legal tool to enforce those reasonable accommodations.
Lynch: Is it up to the employee then to negotiate what those reasonable accommodations would be?
Crone: Ideally, yes. I mean, ideally, what would happen is she would go to her employer and request a reasonable accommodation, and then they would just kind of work that out. The other thing that it does is it provides for an injunction to prohibit or prevent people getting doctored pay or fired or demoted because of a pregnancy.
And there’s a lot of ignorance out there about what pregnant workers can and can’t do or should or shouldn’t do. And this just protects women who want to work up to the last appropriate time before they give birth.
Lynch: So, for an employer, if they do something for one pregnant employee or someone who’s close to childbirth or has other related conditions, do they have to do the same thing for another employee?
Crone: Yes. Well, for another pregnant one. This law is modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act, and it basically allows these accommodations to accommodate the physical condition, which, of course, is temporary.
In my experience. I’ve been practicing employment law for 30 years, and employers are generally concerned about precedent or what not, but usually these accommodations are not intrusive at all. They’re not major. It’s mainly just to protect these women from being fired or laid off because of their pregnancy, which is what often happens.
Lynch: Does it cover other forms of workplace retaliation?
Crone: Well, yes. If a woman requests the accommodation or just otherwise informs them that she’s pregnant and she receives an adverse employment action, then this law would allow her to seek remedies for that retaliation if it caused economic harm.
Lynch: We’re speaking with employment law attorney Alan Crone of The Crone Law Firm. What about penalties for companies that violate this law?
Crone: Well, the main penalty is economic sanction. For example, if the woman’s pay is docked and they have to reimburse that, there are certain confidentiality provisions that have to be observed, and the women can also recover their attorney’s fees.
So, a violation could be quite significant for an employer. The business has to have 15 or more employees before they’re covered. So, these are going to be fairly good-sized businesses.
Lynch: I’m thinking of scenarios for a woman. She’s pregnant, she’s already dealing with all of this. Maybe she’s having some complications that require her to ask for these accommodations. What would women have to do to prove the law had been violated? Who would step in, and what would be that process?
Crone: Well, usually to prove something like that, your own testimony is sufficient. The practical problem with most pregnancy situations is, I said before, they’re temporary. Pregnancy obviously is nine months, and it really becomes obvious four to six months into the pregnancy.
So, you’re not talking about a whole lot of time. And that was always the problem with the original Pregnancy Discrimination Act, was that the remedies sometimes are not very hard. So sometimes it’s hard to find a lawyer who’d be interested in taking the case.
Now, they can go to the EEOC, which enforces the law. And a lot of times, if you just inform your employer about the law, about what their responsibilities, most employers will follow along. They may not like it, but they’ll follow along.
It’s just unfortunate that pregnant workers have to go through this. As you said, they’re dealing with a lot of issues coming down on them all at once, and to have to pursue a legal action at the same time is a little unfair.
Lynch: One last question for you, Alan. From a business perspective, as I know, we have a lot of listeners who own businesses in this area, are there protections in this law for them as far as how far they have to go in providing accommodations?
Crone: Yes, the law requires that they provide the accommodation as long as it’s reasonable. And as I said, the Americans with Disabilities Act has fleshed out the definition of the word reasonable in this context, and then even more so, it can’t impose an undue hardship on the employer.
So, if the employee is asking for significant time off, or maybe they’re asking, “look, I’m going to be unavailable for the next three weeks, and they don’t have any PTO or other employment benefits, and it’s an undue hardship for them to hold their job,” then they may not have to.
Or if they’re asking for some elaborate physical reconstruction of the space or alteration of the job, and the employer can show that it’s an undue hardship, then they don’t have to grant the accommodation.
So, it’s supposed to be a give and take. There’s supposed to be an interactive process, as you said before, Megan, to negotiate this. And, as a practical matter, the biggest problem is a lot of people are not experienced in these types of negotiations, and so it’s good to hire a lawyer to help you with it. And I have found that usually when we get involved in these kinds of cases, it’s three or four phone calls, and we can usually get it resolved. And I think now the law gives a big incentive to employers to be reasonable about it.
Lynch: All right, well, Alan, thank you so much. We really appreciate your insight on this this morning.
Crone: My pleasure, Megan. Thank you very much.
Lynch: That is employment law attorney Alan Crone with The Crone Law Firm joining us on Total Information A.M.