For those unfamiliar with the way a lot of Connecticut laws get implemented, October 1st could seem like just another day.  (Though for my kids, they would be impressed that it was a different October 1st in 1982 that EPCOT opened at Disney World.)

But a lot of bills that are passed by the Connecticut General Assembly go into effect on October 1st each year. This year is no exception.

For employers, the biggest of these bills is the new law concerning “Pregnant Women in the Workplace”.  I’ve previously recapped the law for pregnant employees in a prior post way back in May, but because we’re getting close to implementation, it’s time for a little refresher.

Existing law makes it a discriminatory practice to:

  • To terminate a woman’s employment because of her pregnancy;
  • to refuse to grant to that employee a reasonable leave of absence for disability resulting from her pregnancy;
  • to deny to that employee, who is disabled as a result of pregnancy, any compensation to which she is entitled as a result of the accumulation of disability or leave benefits accrued pursuant to plans maintained by the employer;
  • to fail or refuse to reinstate the employee to her original job or to an equivalent position with equivalent pay and accumulated seniority, retirement, fringe benefits and other service credits upon her signifying her intent to return unless, in the case of a private employer, the employer’s circumstances have so changed as to make it impossible or unreasonable to do so.

Those rules remain unchanged. But the new law revises some other provisions and adds more to the protections. Effective October 1st, it will now also be unlawful to:

  • Limit, segregate or classify the pregnant employee in a way that would deprive her of employment opportunities due to her pregnancy;
  • Discriminate against an employee or job applicant on the basis of her pregnancy in the terms or conditions of her employment;
  • Fail or refuse to make a reasonable accommodation for an employee or job applicant due to her pregnancy, unless the employer can demonstrate that the accommodation would impose an undue hardship;
  • Deny employment opportunities to an employee or job applicant if the denial is due to the request for a reasonable accommodation due to her pregnancy;
  • Force an employee or job applicant affected by pregnancy to accept a reasonable accommodation if she (i) does not have known limitation related to her pregnancy, or (ii) does not require a reasonable accommodation to perform the essential duties related to her employment;
  • Require an employee to take a leave of absence if a reasonable accommodation can be provided in lieu of the leave; and
  • Retaliate against an employee in the terms, conditions or privileges of her employment based upon the employee’s request for a reasonable accommodation.

The changes don’t stop there. The new law also explains that the word “pregnancy” will also include “pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition, including but not limited to, lactation”.  It also expands the definition of “reasonable accommodation ” and “undue hardship”.

  • “Reasonable Accommodation” means, but is not limited to, being permitted to sit while working, more frequent or longer breaks, periodic rest, assistance with manual labor, job restructuring, light duty assignment, modified work schedules, temporary transfers to less strenuous or hazardous work, time off to recover from childbirth or break time and appropriate facilities for expressing breast milk; and
  • “Undue Hardship” means an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as (A) the nature and cost of the accommodation; (B) the overall financial resources of the employer; (C) the overall size of the business of the employer with respect to the number of employees, and the number, type and location of its facilities; and (D) the effect on expenses and resources or the impact otherwise of the accommodation upon the operation of the employer.

Lastly, employers have to provide employees with written notice of the right to be free of discrimination in relation to pregnancy; employers can comply with this through an updated workplace poster.  Note that the CHRO posters do not yet cover this and beware the offerings of some private companies that haven’t updated their posters.

What’s the timing of these notices? Employers can simply post it but in the absence of that, three time periods apply to Connecticut employers to provide notice:

  • to existing employees within 120 days after October 1, 2017;
  • to new employees at the commencement of employment;
  • and to any employee who notifies the employer of her pregnancy within ten days of receiving such notification.

Next Steps for Employers

First, employers need to understand that these definitions of reasonable accommodation and undue hardship DIFFER from that used under federal ADA law or even the state disability discrimination law.  So, you will have the same words mean DIFFERENT things depending on the context.

Next, employers should update their policies and procedures to address these new Connecticut requirements.  This also includes updating workplace posters to reflect this. Employers can contact their human resources consultants or outside counsel for specific language to use.

And perhaps most important, staff needs to be trained on how to implement these changes to Connecticut law.  Talk with your outside counsel about what changes you might need that are specific to your business.  These changes are happening soon and if you’ve been putting this off, now’s the time to get started.

Employers STILL need to also comply with federal anti-discrimination laws regarding pregnant employees and pregnancy, the ADA, FMLA, CTFMLA and more, so don’t just rely on Connecticut’s new law; it needs to be incorporated into your existing practices and tweaked.