South Carolina has enacted a new employment law dealing with accommodations for pregnant women as well as new mothers. The law became effective on May 17, 2018. The law, called the South Carolina Pregnancy Accommodations Act (“the Act”), changed the existing South Carolina Human Affairs Law, which formerly covered this area of law. There are now new protections afforded to workers that are pregnant. It also puts new requirements on employers.
What is the purpose of the Act?
Basically, the goal of the Act is to prevent discrimination against pregnant workers. This means that employers need to provide accommodations, but exactly what this means can vary and is certainly a point of contention. Under the law, these accommodations must be “reasonable,” and provide for medical needs from pregnancy and childbirth. The goal, according to the state’s General Assembly, was to fix workplace laws that were failing to protect pregnant workers, who were being fired or forced out because of discrimination. Specifically, the law changes language from the South Carolina Human Affairs Law to definitively include pregnancy and related medical conditions. The language—“because of sex” or “on the basis of sex”—now includes “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, including, but not limited to, lactation.”
A lot of the substance in the Act reflects what is also found in analogous federal laws, namely Title II of the Civil Rights Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. as a work discrimination lawyer can explain. Something that the Act does add is a number of specific examples of what “reasonable accommodations” should look like when it comes to pregnant workers and new mothers. Examples include accommodations like ensuring facilities are acceptable for employees with needs that come out of pregnancy and child birth; more frequent bathroom breaks; and adapting work schedules. This does not require the business to take actions like hire anyone they would not have hired already or create a new position for someone, but merely to prevent discrimination by accommodating their needs.
Ultimately, an employer breaks the law when engaging in an unlawful employment practice, like not providing reasonable accommodations; denying someone a job because they are pregnant; or requiring an employee to take leave. Finally, the law further mandates that employers give written notice to employees that they have a right to be free from discrimination based on pregnancy and related medical conditions under the law.
Altogether, this is a big step for pregnant workers in South Carolina. Employers should adopt policies to reflect these changes, and workers should keep note of any unlawful employment practices they see.