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Pregnant Workers Fairness Act seeks to protect employee rights

For several weeks, a 22-year-old pregnant employee was apprehensive every time she reported to work. After a previous miscarriage, she feared that the heavy lifting that her Bronx, New York, thrift shop job entailed posed a threat to her current pregnancy. However, she said she believed a note from her doctor outlining her physical restrictions would address her worries. Unfortunately, the note did not provide the desired outcome.

When the expectant mother provided the doctor's note in response to her manager's request, she said she was told to do her job. She also stated that her case was common, because other employees requested the same accommodations when pregnant and were given tasks appropriate for their conditions. But three hours after she presented the note, she was placed on unpaid leave because she could no longer perform her work.

The woman said she recorded a conversation with her manager to clarify the medical request, but the manager replied that she could come back when she could do her job without restrictions. Eventually, with the help of a legal advocacy group, union representatives for the employee learned about a new law applicable to the woman's case.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires employers to make practical accommodations for pregnant employees. The law did not garner much media attention, because it would seem logical for employers to help pregnant workers without the need for such a law. However, for pregnant workers, the law provides a legal basis for the union and the company's lawyer to meet and attempt to work out the situation.

Employers should always be careful not to diminish or deny employee rights. White Plains employees who believe that their labor rights or civil rights were violated by an employer may seek the guidance of a legal professional.

Source: The New York Times, "Placed on Unpaid Leave, a Pregnant Employee Finds Hope in a New Law," Rachel L. Swarns, Feb. 2, 2014

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