Guidance for Handling Pregnancy Issues in the Workplace

06 Jun Guidance for Handling Pregnancy Issues in the Workplace

An employer’s obligations to pregnant employees are often confusing and an area where employers make mistakes.  The following are guidelines to follow should a pregnancy issue arise.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) requires that a covered employer treat women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions in the same manner as other applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. The PDA covers all aspects of employment, including hiring, promotions, discipline, and fringe benefits (such as leave and health insurance benefits).

An employer may not discriminate against an employee because of a medical condition related to pregnancy and must treat the employee the same as others who are similar in their ability or inability to work but are not affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. For example, under the PDA, since lactation is a medical condition related to pregnancy, an employer may not discriminate against an employee because of her breastfeeding schedule.

An employer must provide the same benefits of employment to women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions that it provides to other persons who are similar in their ability or inability to work.

Light Duty Policies. An employer has to provide light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave to pregnant workers if it does so for other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.

An employer may not limit a pregnant worker’s access to light duty based on the source of her impairment (e.g., it may not deny light duty to a pregnant worker based on a policy that limits light duty to employees with on-the-job injuries).  However, if an employer’s light duty policy restricts the number of light duty positions or the duration of light duty assignments, the employer may lawfully apply those restrictions to pregnant workers, as long as it also applies the same restrictions to other workers similar in their ability or inability to work.

Leave. While an employer may not compel an employee to take leave because she is pregnant, it must allow women with physical limitations resulting from pregnancy to take leave on the same terms and conditions (e.g., provide them with the same amount of leave) as others who are similar in their ability or inability to work.

If a pregnant employee uses leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the employer must restore the employee to the employee’s original job or to an equivalent job with equivalent pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.

The ADA may require an employer to provide leave beyond that which it usually allows its employees to take, as a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a pregnancy-related impairment that is a disability.

Medical Benefits. The PDA requires employers who offer health insurance to include coverage of pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. An employer must provide the same terms and conditions for pregnancy-related benefits as it provides for benefits relating to other medical conditions.

Randy C. Gepp
Taylor English
(678)336-7197