On May 17, 2018, South Carolina’s governor signed what is being called the South Carolina Pregnancy Accommodations Act into law. Until this point, South Carolina has had no state law regarding the question of pregnancy being treated as a disability or condition for which accommodations can (or should) be made. This Act helps establish baseline rules for what employers are required to do to accommodate or assist a pregnant employee.
Federal vs State Law
Up until now, any pregnant employee who has been discriminated against or mistreated on the job has been forced to utilize the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) in order to bring a charge or lawsuit on such a ground. Generally, when no state law on an issue like this exists, the federal law is used in its place. The PDA prohibits sex or gender discrimination related to pregnancy. For example, an employer must provide a suitable and private place for a new mother to express milk, without penalizing her for the time spent in such an activity. It also urges that employers consider pregnancy a temporary disability.
The new South Carolina Pregnancy Accommodations Act (PAA) is patterned after the federal statute but has slightly different requirements. Under the PAA, an employer must provide a place to express milk. They must also allow modifications to schedules or breaks, offer temporary or permanent job restructuring (depending on the job), and several other requirements to help accommodate pregnant employees and new mothers.
The PAA specifically does not characterize pregnancy as a disability. Rather, it simply establishes that pregnant employees may require additional accommodations and requires they be met if no undue hardship is present. It does, however, demand that notice of the rights contained in the PAA be provided immediately.
Filing A Charge
While sometimes employers are granted grace periods in which to comply with new legislation, the PAA must be complied with immediately, as stated in the law. However, if an employer is acting in good faith, it may be a good idea to allow them the time to modify policies before filing a complaint with the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (SCHAC) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Complying with notice requirements is fairly straightforward, but other changes such as evaluating leave policies or the possibility of restructuring may take longer.
If you are still being subject to discriminatory behavior or your employer has failed to demonstrate their compliance with the PAA, it may then be time to file a charge. However, if you do choose to file under the Pregnancy Accommodations Act, it is important to understand that you would need to file with the relevant state entity (SCHAC). Filing under the federal PDA, on the other hand, would involve choosing between SCHAC and EEOC. Either way, the system will take its course, but filing with the wrong agency may cost you time and trouble.
Contact An Experienced Attorney
While the Pregnancy Accommodations Act is newly signed into law, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is sadly an old story. If you believe that you have been the victim of unfair behavior, contacting a knowledgeable employment discrimination lawyer can help you decide how to proceed. Attorney A. Christopher Potts and his Charleston law firm are here to help.
Contact us today to set up an initial appointment.