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We recently blogged about pregnancy-rights legislation winding its way through the Kentucky General Assembly, the Kentucky Pregnant Workers’ Act, having then passed the Senate. As we previously discussed, the Act will require covered employers to take specific steps to accommodate pregnant and lactating employees.

Since our previous post, the Kentucky House of Representatives passed the bill 87-5, and Gov. Matt Bevin signed the bill into law on April 9, 2019. Half the states have similar laws, and Kentucky’s version received broad bipartisan support.

Takeaways for employees

The Act provides important protections for pregnant employees and nursing mothers. While sex discrimination, including pregnancy discrimination, was already illegal, the new law requires certain accommodations needed for pregnancy and breast-milk expression.

A significant part of the law is the requirement that employers have conversations with pregnant workers about the accommodations their pregnancies might require. Other provisions include:

  • The employer must provide breastfeeding mothers with a private space that is not in a bathroom to express milk.
  • Reasonable accommodations might include more or longer breaks, new or modified equipment, time off after birth, restructured duties, schedule modifications, lighter or safer work, and others.
  • If reasonable accommodation is possible, the employer cannot force the employee to take leave from work. Some employers previously required this, which was part of the impetus for the bill.

A pregnant or lactating employee facing resistance at work to reasonable accommodation should speak as soon as possible with a knowledgeable attorney about the new requirements of this law.

Takeaways for employers

A Kentucky employer should work with an experienced employment lawyer to understand how to comply with the new law. The first issue is whether the law applies to a given employer. For most employers it will be clear, but for others it will require some analysis.

The pregnancy-accommodation requirements apply to an employer that has had directly or through its agent at least 15 employees in Kentucky in “each of … [20] or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year.” In a close case, legal counsel can help to determine whether the law applies to the employer.

Another important legal determination is whether a covered employer is exempt from an otherwise reasonable pregnancy accommodation because it would impose an undue hardship for the employer. Undue hardship means an accommodation that would require “significant difficulty or expense” considering several listed factors accounting for the nature and size of the employer, how long the accommodation would last, if similar accommodations have been or are being made for others, or if there is an internal policy requiring the accommodation sought.

Employers, too, are advised to speak with an experienced employment lawyer to help navigate the Act’s new requirements.