On January 20, 2014, the Philadelphia Mayor enacted an amendment to the City Code that requires the city employers “to provide reasonable accommodations to an employee for needs related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.”  The provisions of the new City amendment are triggered if the employee requests such accommodations, and if it would not cause an undue hardship to the employer to provide them.  § 9-1128(1).

Reasonable accommodations under the new law “include, but are not limited to restroom breaks, periodic rest for those who stand for long periods of time, assistance with manual labor, leave for a period of disability arising from childbirth, reassignment to a vacant position, and job restructuring.”  § 9-1128(1)(a). Employers must provide written notice of the new law “to all new and existing employees within 90 days of the effective date.”  § 9-1128(4).  The form and manner of the notice will be determined by the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission.  Id. 

The law amends §§ 9-1101 through 9-1103 and §§ 9-1128 through 9-1129 of the Fair Practices Ordinance of the Philadelphia Code and goes into effect immediately.  The amendments were created to “fill a gap” in related federal antidiscrimination law that prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, but only requires accommodation for woman suffering from pregnancy-related medical conditions that rise to the level of a disability.  The new law provides protection to a pregnant woman who, although experiencing a healthy pregnancy, may still require some form of accommodation at work.

The Fair Practices Ordinance defines employers as persons with “one or more” employees or persons who “do business in the City of Philadelphia.”  § 9-1102(h).  Violations of the employment provisions set forth in the Fair Practices Ordinance may lead to orders from the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (“PCHR”), including orders directing offending employers to stop unlawful conduct; directing the hiring, reinstatement or upgrading of employees, with or without back pay; demanding payment of compensatory damages; demanding payment of punitive damages not to exceed $2,000 per violation; and demanding payment of reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.  § 9-1105.  The violation of these kinds of orders from the PCHR can expose violators to additional liability, including fines and imprisonment in the case of repeat violations.  § 9-1121.

Finally, the Fair Practices Ordinance creates a private right of action.  After administrative exhaustion, a “complainant may bring an action in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County based on the right to freedom from discrimination granted by this Chapter.”  § 9-1122.  This private right of action must be brought within two years of the PCHR’s notifying the claimant that his or her administrative case has been closed.

This legislation parallels similar laws recently enacted in New York and New Jersey, which were previously reported on our blog.