Can an Employer Require Medical Information About Pregnancy at Any Time?

Under an important federal law known as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible employees are allowed to take medical leave from work without worrying about losing their jobs. This includes pregnant women who, at some point, will need time off to have their babies. In some cases, pregnant women also need certain accommodations which, under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer is almost always required to provide.

Because of these provisions, employers are allowed, in certain situations, to request medical information. With this aspect of employment law in mind, a necessary question arises: is this a blanket right to ask for medical information at any time? A close analysis of the rights and requirements associated with pregnancy leave will help answer our question.

When Are Employees Required to Provide Medical Information?

If you have requested medical leave from your employer, you will likely be asked to provide certification from your healthcare providers regarding the condition resulting in your need for leave. Your employer can deny your request if you do not provide this certification. Although an employer is not required under the FMLA to obtain a medical certification, if they do request it, employees are required to provide the certification.

EEOC v. D&S Shipley Donuts

At the end of 2014, the EEOC sued a franchisee of Shipley's Do-Nuts located in Texas, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. According to the complaint that was filed, Brooke Foley was terminated after her employer found out she was pregnant; however, the case was not that simple.

The company had a practice of requiring all employees who were pregnant to provide a written medical release assuring that they did not have a "high-risk" pregnancy and that they could safely perform their normal job duties. This medical release was required regardless of whether the employee ever asked for an accommodation because of her pregnancy or indicated there were any pregnancy-related medical issues.

When the owner of Shipley's Do-Nuts heard a rumor that Foley was pregnant, the owner confronted her and demanded to know if she was. Foley did not immediately confirm her pregnancy, but was nonetheless required to provide the medical clearance. She was then removed from the work schedule until she provided it. When Foley objected, she was terminated the next day.

Protections Provided by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

While the case has not come to a conclusion at the time of this writing, it appears that the employer has committed an act of pregnancy discrimination in violation of the ADA and the Pregancy Discrimination Act (PDA). One of the basic premises of the PDA is that an employer cannot simply assume that a pregnant employee is unable to work because she is pregnant. Nor can an employee assume that she will no longer be dedicated to her job because she is pregnant or has children. This is true even in a workplace with greater physical demands than a doughnut shop.

Additional Protection from the Americans with Disabilities Act

It should also be noted that the regulations governing the ADA, which covers pregnancy, state that an employer cannot require an employee to provide medical information unless it is "job-related and consistent with business necessity." Without a request for an accommodation under the ADA, or some other indication that the employee is having some difficulty performing her job duties because of her pregnancy, an employer is likely in violation of the ADA by requiring medical information, as was required in the Shipley's Do-Nuts case.

Have Your Rights Been Violated? Get an Attorney on Your Side!

Your rights should always be upheld by your employer. If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination, or if you have other questions concerning your rights in the workplace, please contact Wrady & Michel, LLC, either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. Our Birmingham employment discrimination lawyers can review your situation and discuss your options during an initial case evaluation.

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