EEOC Weighs in on Pregnancy Related Limitations and Restrictions

Julie Shenkman
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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission revised its pregnancy-related limitations rules after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Young vs. UPS in 2015. The court ruled that employers must provide accommodations to pregnant women if the employer also does the same for workers with disabilities. The ruling slightly modifies the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

What Are the Basic Rules?

The rules specifically state what an employer must do regarding the treatment of pregnant workers. Since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act became law, it is illegal to discriminate against pregnant women with respect to hiring, firing or promoting as long as the woman can perform her job duties. A company cannot refuse to interview someone due to pregnancy. Employers cannot harass someone for being pregnant, and employers more than likely should take into account pregnancy-related limitations when discussing accommodations.

What Are Pregnancy-Related Limitations?

For example, consider a woman in a job in which her duties require her to lift 20 pounds. After the fifth month of pregnancy, her doctor says she cannot lift that weight until after she delivers due to the strain of the pregnancy. An employer may have to accommodate the pregnant worker due to her pregnancy-related limitations. Human resources can look into giving her lighter duties, altering her essential job functions or allowing her to take leave without penalty of losing her job. If a company gives any of these accommodations to non-pregnant employees with medical difficulties or disabilities, the employer must also do the same for a pregnant woman.

What If a Worker Can't Do Her Regular Job?

Employers have several options to help accommodate pregnant workers. Managers can reduce workloads, allow them to work from home, remove essential job functions or shift pregnant workers to completely different jobs. If a pregnant woman cannot work at all, the Family Medical Leave Act may allow her to take unpaid leave until after her child is born. This means the employee gets her job back when she returns to work sometime after the birth of her child, and she cannot be fired for taking unpaid leave due to pregnancy.

How Should Women Handle Pregnancy-Related Limitations?

The first thing a pregnant woman should do is inform her supervisor and human resources department as soon as the employee thinks she needs pregnancy-related accommodations. An employer cannot fire someone for asking for accommodations, nor can the employer force the worker to pay for the accommodations. Workers may have protections under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, depending on the circumstances. Employers may have to file forms with health care providers. Any complaints against an employer might be handled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Employers can seek the advice of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for help regarding rules for pregnancy-related limitations. A good rule of thumb is to use common sense and determine if human resources makes similar accommodations for non-pregnant workers who cannot perform their jobs due to medical conditions or disabilities.

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