Are Employers Required to Accommodate Pregnant Employees?

Most of us are familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act and its requirement that employers provide reasonable accommodations for its employees with known disabilities. Under the ADA, a reasonable accommodation is simply an adjustment or modification an employer provides to enable individuals with disabilities to have equal employment opportunities. Despite this obligation, employers are not required to provide an accommodation, if doing so will result in substantial hardship or expense. Although Pregnancy is not considered a disability protected under the ADA, employers may still be required to provide certain accommodations.

Protections Afforded by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is actually an amendment to Title VII, passed in 1978, which expanded the prohibition against sex discrimination to include discrimination based on pregnancy. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an employer that allows temporarily disabled employees to take disability leave or leave without pay, must allow an employee who is temporarily disabled due to pregnancy the same accommodation.

Also, if a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer is required to treat her the same as any other temporarily disabled employee. This may include providing light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave.

The Case of Peggy Young

A recent federal case, filed against UPS, brings the issue of accommodations for pregnant employees to light. In Young v. United Parcel Service, the United States Supreme Court will be called upon to consider "whether, and in what circumstances, an employer that provides work accommodations to non-pregnant employees with work limitations must provide work accommodations to pregnant employees who are 'similar in their ability or inability to work.'"

Peggy Young was a driver for UPS, whose request for light duty was denied after she became pregnant. She simply requested doctor-recommended light duty, the same accommodation UPS provides to workers with other medical conditions. Young sued her employer for discrimination. UPS argues that it was within its rights to restrict accommodations for people who are injured at work, have lost their drivers' certification, or have a disability recognized by the ADA. Young's case was thrown out on summary judgment. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed that decision.

EEOC's Guidelines Regarding Pregnancy Accommodations

Protections for pregnant employees have evolved since the passing of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Refusing to accommodate new mothers' lactation after a pregnancy, refusing bathroom breaks during a pregnancy, or punishing workers for planning a future pregnancy are now considered unlawful discrimination.

The EEOC has also issued new guidelines stating that conditions related to pregnancy can qualify as legally protected disabilities under federal law. Unfortunately, these guidelines lack the legal force of a statute or Supreme Court ruling. The Supreme Court has now agreed to hear the case of Peggy Young.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.

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