Monday, January 13, 2020

CBS News misrepresents an employer’s obligation to accommodate an employee’s pregnancy


I watched with great interest yesterday story on CBS Sunday Morning about an employer’s obligation to accommodate an employee’s pregnancy. The report told the stories of various women who lost their jobs because their employers refused to reasonably accommodate their pregnancies, all in the context of a call to pass a federal law mandating reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers.

According to CBS News: “[U]nder the current federal law, while employers are prohibited from firing or refusing to hire pregnant workers, they aren’t always required to make any on-the-job accommodations, such as offering more bathroom breaks or temporary desk jobs.”

That statement, however, distorts and undersells the current state of the law.

In Young v. UPS, the Supreme Court held that an employer must offer a reasonable accommodation to a pregnant employee if it has ever offered a reasonable accommodation to another employee with a similarly disabling condition. On the heels of that case, the EEOC updated its guidance on pregnancy discrimination to clarify and amplify this point.

What does all of this mean for employers considering a pregnant employee’s request for a workplace  accommodation? You must provide the same accommodations to pregnant workers as to other workers with similarly disabling medical conditions. This rule will impose a light-duty and other accommodation obligations on most employers.

Ask yourself—

  • Have I ever provided light duty to expedite the return-to-work of an employee with a work-comp claim?
  • Have I ever provided light duty to an employee as an ADA reasonable accommodation?
  • Have I ever provided time off to an employee as an ADA reasonable accommodation?

If you answer “yes” to any of these questions (and most employers will), then you cannot deny the same light duty or other accommodations to a pregnant worker. So while the CBS News story is technically correct that employers aren’t always required to make any on-the-job accommodations for pregnant workers, most employers are obligated to do so in most situations. And if you refuse, you are taking a huge legal risk.

* Photo by Sincerely Media on Unsplash
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