The South Carolina Pregnancy Accommodations Act (SCPAA) was signed into law on May 17, 2018. With the signing of the SCPAA, South Carolina joins twenty-two (22) other states providing protection to pregnant employees in addition to those provided under federal law. Employers are required to conspicuously post written notice of the SCPAA and its protections no later than 120 days after May 17, 2018 and also to provide new employees with a copy of the notice upon hiring.

Before the enactment of the SCPAA, South Carolina did not have a law governing the employer-employee relationship concerning pregnancy or pregnancy-related medical conditions; thus, employers were guided only by the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978. The PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by expanding the meaning of sex discrimination to include “sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.” The PDA sets forth the limitations imposed on an employer once it is placed on notice of an employee’s pregnancy and addresses the employee’s rights while pregnant. In essence, the PDA states that pregnant mothers “and [those with] related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.”

Similarly, the SCPAA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to new mothers and pregnant employees where those accommodations do not impose an undue burden on the employer and prevents employers from discriminating against pregnant employees and new mothers. The law authorizes the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission to promulgate regulations implementing the law, which could include potential penalties for employers who violate the SCPAA. Specifically, the SCPAA prohibits employers from refusing to hire or terminate an employee; isolating or limiting an employee from other employment (promotion); reducing an employee’s wages; failing to make reasonable accommodations for medical needs relating to the pregnancy, childbirth, a related medical condition stemming from pregnancy; or taking adverse action against an employee for requesting or using reasonable accommodations (retaliating against an employee).

Like the PDA, reasonable accommodations under the SCPAA may not “impose an undue hardship on the operation of the business of the employer.” Employers are not required to “construct a permanent, dedicated space for expressing milk;” “create a new position, including a light duty position for the employee, unless a light duty position would be provided for another equivalent employee;” or “hire new employees that the employer would not have otherwise hired.” However, cost effective accommodations may include: implementing more frequent bathroom and food breaks; allowing coworkers to assist the new mother with heavy-lifting; providing comfortable seating options such as stools or chairs rather than requiring a new mother to stand for hours; and modifying work schedules.

While the SCPAA does not obligate employers to automatically provide reasonable accommodations, employers should take steps to inform pregnant employees of their rights through updating their employee handbooks and policies and be willing to engage in dialogue with employees who request accommodations.

Should you have any questions about the SCPAA, please do not hesitate to contact White & Story, LLC.