Are Employers Required to Give Pregnant Employees Light Duty?

You might think that an employer would have no problem allowing a pregnant employee to lighten her workload, for her own safety and the safety of the baby. That is not always the case. It is all too common for clients to report that their employers have denied their request for light duty. If you are pregnant and your employer denies your request for light duty, has the company violated the law? In most cases, the answer is yes. However, every situation is different, so you should discuss your particular case with an employment law attorney.

Violations of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

If an employer has light duty positions available, that a pregnant employee could perform temporarily, and that employee requests such an accommodation, the employer cannot deny the request. If an employer not only denies the request, but also tells the employee that having a pregnant employee continue to work creates liability for the company, there may even be direct evidence of discrimination. That means, the derogatory comment about pregnant employees would likely mean the employee is no longer required to prove she was treated differently.

Another example of wrongful denial of a request for light duty involves the ADA. Many employers have accommodations available for employees with disabilities under the ADA. However, some employers refuse to acknowledge pregnancy as a qualified medical condition or disability. In cases where an employer allows non-pregnant employees to work light duty, but denies the same accommodation to a pregnant employee, the employer is again violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Pregnancy Discrimination & Temporary Disability

If an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job because of a medical condition related to either pregnancy or childbirth, her employer is required to treat her just as it would any other temporarily disabled employee. This means providing light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave or unpaid leave, as long as these accommodations or benefits are provided to other temporarily disabled employees.

Pregnant employees may also be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, if they are suffering from a medical impairment (resulting from pregnancy) that is recognized as a disability under the ADA. Some examples include gestational diabetes or pregnancy-induced hypertension. In that case, the employer must provide a reasonable accommodation when requested, absent any significant difficulty or expense on the employer's part.

Other Protections

In addition to accommodations, pregnant employees are also allowed leave for pregnancy or childbirth related conditions. Under the PDA, when an employer allows temporarily disabled employees to take disability leave or leave without pay, the employer must also allow an employee who is temporarily disabled due to pregnancy to take the same leave.

Further, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), new parents (including foster and adoptive parents) may be eligible for 12 weeks of leave that may be used for care of the new child. Employees must have worked for at least 12 months prior to taking FMLA leave. Not all employers are required to comply with the FMLA, so discuss your situation with an employment law attorney.

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 calling us at (205) 265-1880.

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