On April 23, 2019, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities (CHRO) issued a Best Practices Bluepaper as guidance for employers with three or more employees facing accommodation requests from employees for pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions.
The guidance reiterates the current obligations for employers as laid out in the 2017 amendments to the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act:
- Workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions;
- Workers are entitled to reasonable leaves of absence due to disability resulting from pregnancy;
- Workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations and reasonable leaves of absences for any pregnancy-related condition or symptom; and
- Workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations for lactation needs.
- An employer must engage in a good-faith discussion regarding a requested accommodation with an employee, who is entitled to confidentiality and, of course, should never be subject to retaliation for requesting accommodation.
The CHRO’s guidance interprets and, in some cases, goes beyond the actual language of the amendments. Therefore, when evaluating requests for accommodation of pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions, employers should consult not only the language of CFEPA, but also the CHRO’s guidance, including the following key points:
- The guidance lists many symptoms and conditions for which accommodations may be required, including fatigue, preeclampsia, lactation-related conditions, and infertility.
- Similarly, the non-exhaustive list of potential accommodations is extensive and includes permitting sitting, drinking, or eating at work, more frequent breaks, job restructuring, and light duty.
- Employers cannot require medical documentation as a condition of beginning the interactive process. In many cases, per the CHRO, medical certification should not be necessary.
- An employer must provide advance notice of any certification requirement, which it can only request if it does so for other employees seeking medical leave, and should allow at least fifteen days for the employee to provide the certification.
- An employee (or any required medical certification) only needs to confirm (1) the nature of the limitations necessitating the accommodation; and (2) that the limitations are related to the employee’s pregnancy, childbirth, or related condition.
- An employer may only require a “fitness for duty” note if it provided advance notice of this requirement and provided the requirement applies to all employees returning from “temporary disability leaves.”
Employers must also consider, as appropriate, the interplay between the ADA, state and federal FMLA, Connecticut Paid Sick Leave, employer-provided benefits, current policies and past practices.
As further evidence of the continued focus on pregnancy and related conditions, House Bill 7043, currently pending in the Connecticut Legislature, seeks to expand reasonable accommodations for lactation needs so as to require a private room (other than a toilet stall) that includes, or is near, a refrigerator and an outlet. We will continue to monitor this bill and others related to workplace issues. In the meantime, employers should review their accommodation practices and the CHRO’s guidance and ensure they are complying with their obligation to provide notice to employees of pregnancy-related rights.