What Rights Does Your Pregnant Employee Have?

July 22, 2014 at 8:31 am Leave a comment

The way my father explained it to me, people have been getting pregnant for quite some time.  In addition, since 1978, federal law has banned discrimination in the workplace on the basis of pregnancy.  So you may find it odd that pregnancy is a hot topic in legal circles these days.  However, recent developments have brought the issue of pregnancy discrimination to the forefront of HR law.

First, the Supreme Court has decided to review a case next term, Young v. United Parcel Service, in which it will clarify what accommodations, if any, must be provided to a pregnant employee.  Not coincidentally, the EEOC recently released an updated guidance on this issue for the first time in more than two decades.

The issues involved are not as clear cut as you might think.  First, let’s start with the basics.  We all should know that you can’t discriminate against someone just because she is pregnant.  The Pregnancy Discrimination Act provides that pregnant women “shall be treated the same for all employment purposes. . .as other persons.”  It seems simple enough, but the case the Supreme Court is going to hear involved a driver whose job required her to lift up to 70 lbs.  The company’s policy excused drivers from this requirement if they were disabled or if they lost their license, but not if they were pregnant.  The company argued that it was required to treat her equally with all other employees and it would not be doing that if it excused her from the weight restrictions just because she was pregnant.

When I first read this decision I wondered why she couldn’t be treated as disabled under the ADA.  But the Fourth Circuit, which heard the case being decided by the Supreme Court, ruled that the ADA doesn’t apply to pregnant women.  As a result, the Fourth Circuit ruled that the company acted legally despite the fact that her request to lift lighter packages could have been easily accommodated.

Undoubtedly with an eye toward weighing in on the Supreme Court’s decision, the EEOC’s recently updated pregnancy guidance argues that there may be circumstances in which pregnant women are protected under the ADA.  As I like to say, this is one of those cases that are going to be worth keeping an eye on.  With my usual caveat that I am not an HR attorney but I like to play one occasionally writing this blog, this is one area where it seems a bit of common sense goes an awfully long way.  UPS has provided us a great case to consider, but had it not been so stubborn in adhering to its policy, an employee could easily have been accommodated and millions of dollars in legal fees could have been avoided.

Entry filed under: HR, Legal Watch. Tags: , .

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Authored By:

Henry Meier, Esq., General Counsel, New York Credit Union Association.

The views Henry expresses are Henry’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Association.

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