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Can I Get A Light Duty Accommodation During Pregnancy?

Published By | Jan 26, 2022 | Employment Discrimination, Family Medical Leave Act Claims, Gender Discrimination, Pregnancy Discrimination, Wrongful Termination |

Best Pregnancy Discrimination Attorney Answer: Will my boss let me switch to light duty while I’m pregnant? Can you lose your job due to pregnancy? What are the rights of a pregnant employee? Does my boss have to provide pregnancy accommodations? Can I get fired for missing work due to pregnancy?

Fortunately, pregnancy is a protected status, thanks to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act Of 1978 (“PDA”). The PDA amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Now, discriminating against a pregnant worker is unlawful gender discrimination. Pregnancy discrimination is also illegal under Ohio law. The Ohio Fair Employment Practice Law (Ohio R.C. 4112.01 et. seq.) prohibits employers from discriminating against a woman based on her pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition or illness. Having represented a lot of mistreated pregnant and new mother employees, our employment law attorneys have blogged about this type of discrimination often, including claims for wrongful termination. (See Can I Be Fired For Getting Pregnant? What Protection Do Pregnant Women Have?; Does The Law Allow Employers To Require Pregnant Women Or New Mothers To Take A Leave Of Absence? Can I Be Forced To Take Time Off When I Got Pregnant?; Do New Parents Have To Take Maternity/Paternity Leave Right After The Child Is Born? When Can I Take Maternity Leave And For How Long?).

One of the issues that pregnant women often face is the need for some accommodations at work, such as being able to eat snacks, more frequent bathroom breaks, flexibility with start times, being able to stand or sit as needed, and most commonly, weight restrictions or light duty.

An employer may have to accommodate a pregnant worker if it accommodates other similarly situated employees who, due to work injury or disability, also require light duty. Light duty refers to less physically strenuous job duties. (See Legal Rights for Pregnant Workers under Federal Law).

Let’s start with the basic premise that pregnancy is not considered a disability or perceived disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). As such, there is no automatic requirement to offer reasonable accommodations directly through the ADA.

However, the ADA is clear that an employer may not treat a pregnant worker differently than other employees – including disabled employees.

The seminal case on this issue is the United States Supreme Court’s 2015 decision in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. While the United States Supreme Court dealt with the topic of pregnancy accommodations, the issue still has not been entirely resolved. In that case, Young’s doctor told her that she should not lift more than 20 pounds for the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy and then only 10 pounds for the rest of her pregnancy. However, UPS wanted her to move packages that could be as heavy as 70 pounds. Thus, Young required a light duty accommodation.

Young argued that the employer’s failure to provide her an accommodation was clearly pregnancy discrimination. However, the court held that this type of situation would not be pregnancy discrimination, unless the employee could prove that the employer did not provide a pregnant worker with accommodations despite providing other non-pregnant employees with similar accommodations. Essentially, an employee could only bring a failure to accommodate claim if there was evidence that the employer was treating the employee differently than it was treating other temporarily disabled employees. Young’s case helped made some headway in pregnancy discrimination litigation, but accommodations for pregnant workers are still difficult to obtain.

However, Congress may provide some more clarity on the issue of reasonable accommodations very soon. In May 2019, Congress reintroduced a new bill, H.R.2694 Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. The purpose of the bill is to “eliminate discrimination and promote women’s health and economic security by ensuring reasonable workplace accommodations” for pregnant workers. If passed by Congress, the new law would directly require employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women. Like the ADA, the employer would be able to avoid providing the accommodation, if it could show that the accommodation imposed an undue hardship on the business.

The bill has actually made some progress in Congress. Just recently, on January 14, 2020, the House Committee on Education and Labor voted to advance the proposed law. Both Democrats and Republicans in the committee were in favor of the bill. The bill is also backed by prominent groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Women’s National Law Center. (See ‘Long Overdue’ Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Advances From Committee).

In 2016, Ohio tried something similar to the proposed Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Ohio introduced Senate Bill 301, the Pregnancy Reasonable Accommodation Act. (See Senate Bill 301). The bill was referred to the Civil Justice Committee, but unfortunately it never became law. If Congress passed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, it would have even more widespread impact on pregnant workers than the proposed Ohio law.

A Sunday television news story broadcasted on CBS News recently created even more attention surrounding the issue of reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. (See Overdue protections for pregnant workers; and Fighting for overdue protections for pregnant workers). In the interview, three formerly pregnant workers shared their stories. One, was Michelle Durham, a former paramedic who prided herself on being able to help others. When, she became pregnant, she was told that she was not able to lift more than 50 pounds, which was impossible to do avoid as a paramedic. This is not an uncommon weight restriction for doctors to order for working women who are pregnant.

When Durham asked for an accommodation, she was told that a desk job accommodation was only available for those who were injured on the job, not pregnant workers. Now, based on what our pregnancy discrimination lawyers explained above, this is unlawful under the current law. While unpaid medical leave was available to Durham under Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), it would only cover 12 weeks. Durham would still be unaccommodated for the rest of her pregnancy and then would be out of medical leave time after her baby was born.

The second, featured pregnant worker was Hacheler Cyrille, a service representative at an airport, who fell onto the luggage belt while pregnant. She had to go to the emergency room as a result of the incident. Though her baby was safe, her employer refused to transfer her to a position with less physical activity. Her employer apparently was not concerned about putting Cyrille’s baby at further risk. Clearly evil, but unless Cyrille had evidence that her boss or manager accommodated other temporarily disabled employees with light duty or less physical activity, then she has no claim under the ADA.

The difference between Durham and Cyrille shows the gap in the pregnancy rights laws between the current PDA and the proposed changes.

The third worker, Sarah Coogle was a corrections officer. As soon as she became pregnant, her manager told Coogle, “if you bring in any note from your doctor that restricts you, you’ll be unfit for duty. You cannot work.” What kind of manager says something like this without provocation? Our employment law attorneys just recently blogged about full health or 100 percent healed policies being illegal. (See Can My Job Have A 100% Healed Policy?).

It’s not like a doctor’s order is something Coogle can control. The reality for Coogle was that she had to keep working during her pregnancy for financial reasons. However, when a prison alarm went off at work, Coogle started running as she was trained to do. She collapsed and hurt her baby in the process. It caused a placental abruption and her newborn was a stillborn. For Coogle, the consequences of being denied an accommodation were enormous. Unfortunately, had Coogle contacted an employment lawyer when she was threatened by her boss with a wrongful termination, this situation may have been avoided.

Can you imagine how awful these three women probably felt when their employers stood in the way of a healthy pregnancy? One can only imagine how Coogle especially felt, who lost her baby, because her employer refused to accommodate her during her pregnancy. All three women sued and are at various stages in their lawsuits, but that does not change what happened to them. For these women, their only two options were to continue working and risk their babies’ lives or to quit their job. Quitting a job with a baby on the way can put a family in a very precarious financial situation, especially if the mother is relying on work provided healthcare. It should not be an either/or situation for these women. It’s also clear that these women were very passionate about their jobs and did not want to stop working. It’s unfair to force women to give up valuable careers, in order to have a family.

What’s really bizarre about many employer’s resistance to pregnancy accommodations is the fact that the accommodations are not permanent, like disability accommodations usually are. Most employees who request disability accommodations will need them for the entire time they work for their employer. On the other hand, a pregnant worker usually only needs a temporary accommodation, for a few short months. It does not seem reasonable for an employer to be so resistant to a temporary accommodation. That’s why our employment discrimination lawyers will go to great lengths for our clients to help employers see that they do not have to make a very big concession for pregnant employees.

The differences between how the ADA and PDA deal with accommodations is why our employment attorneys work so hard to advocate for changes to current employment discrimination laws. We want to provide the most protection possible for our clients. Our employment attorneys are very optimistic about the impact the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act for pregnant workers. In the meantime, however, we will continue to do our job and negotiate with employers to get them to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers.

If you are facing discrimination or harassment simply because you are pregnant, protect your legal rights — call the right attorney. Under federal and Ohio employment laws, employers cannot harass, fire, wrongfully terminate, discriminate against, demote, or wrongfully discipline a female employee just because she got pregnant. When you call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential initial consultation, you will meet with an attorney from The Spitz Law Firm to discuss wrongful discrimination claims and help you determine the best way to pursue your gender/sex discrimination claims. Our pregnancy discrimination lawyers know your rights and will fight to protect them. Call our Cleveland attorneys at (216) 291-4744. Call our Columbus attorneys at (614) 335-4685. Call our Cincinnati attorneys at (513) 818-3688. Call our Toledo attorneys at (419) 960-5926.

Disclaimer:

The materials available at the top of this page and on this employment law website are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. If you are still asking “What should I do if I was fired today after telling my supervisor that I’m pregnant”, “What are my pregnancy rights in the workplace”, or “How do I find the best lawyer for pregnancy and gender discrimination”, your best option is to contact an Ohio attorney to obtain advice with respect to pregnancy discrimination questions or any particular employment law issue. Use and access to this employment law website or any of the links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship. The legal opinions expressed at or through this site are the opinions of the individual lawyer and may not reflect the opinions of The Spitz Law Firm, Brian Spitz, or any individual attorney.