Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), an employer with 15 or more employees must provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. While some pregnant workers experience little to no change in their ability to do their jobs, pregnancy is a major physical condition and pregnant employees are protected under the law. If your employer refuses to accommodate you, you could file a lawsuit for pregnancy discrimination.
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United States federal law treats pregnancy similarly to a temporary disability, which is covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Pregnancy protections also extend to pregnancy-related conditions (such as preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, anemia, morning sickness, sciatica, leg swelling, depression, etc.) and to new mothers who have just given birth.
What Are Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnancy?
A reasonable accommodation allows you to perform your essential work tasks without creating an undue burden for your employer. Under the law:
- Your employer must engage in an interactive process to provide you accommodation by asking about your needs and taking your input into consideration;
- You must be proactive in communicating your needs to your employer, as your company does not have the responsibility to guess your needs;
- Your company does not have to give you the exact accommodation you requested, as long as they provide you with a comparable solution that works; and
- Your employer may ask for a certificate from your doctor or medical care provider confirming that you need the accommodation.
If your company refuses to offer reasonable accommodation for your pregnancy or another related condition, you could file a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against them. A lawsuit can help you recover the benefits you were denied that you are legally owed under federal law, along with compensation for the discrimination you had to suffer.
So what does pregnancy accommodation look like in the workplace? What is a reasonable accommodation you can expect to get as a pregnant employee or an employee who has recently given birth?
Below are five common examples:
1. Reduction of Physical Work (Light Duty)
Pregnant people are often advised by their doctors to avoid engaging in strenuous activity such as lifting heavy objects. But what do you do if the essential functions of your job go against this advice?
You can request temporary light duty instead of your regular tasks to protect your health.
Your employer is required to treat your pregnancy the same as employees who have similar conditions that affect their abilities. So if your company provides light duty as an option for other employees with disabilities, they must also offer it to pregnant workers. Your employer cannot deny you this right simply because it would be inconvenient or more expensive for them.
If you are unable to do the regular tasks of your job because of your pregnancy or recent childbirth, temporary light duty offers you the option to complete less physically intensive duties rather than take medical leave. However, you should never be pressured into accepting a light duty assignment instead of taking your legally protected leave.
2. Breastfeeding and Pumping Facilities at Work
Breastfeeding mothers have the right to take time at work to take care of their lactating needs. In fact, breastfeeding facilities are required under federal law.
According to the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Law passed by Congress in 2010, companies covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) must provide accommodations at work for pregnant workers to breastfeed or pump. The accommodation must offer a private space for lactating or breastfeeding that is not a bathroom.
In addition, you get a reasonable amount of break time to handle your lactating, pumping, and breastfeeding needs as a paid break. But everybody is different and this “reasonable” standard may change based on how quickly the process goes for you or the efficiency of your pumping machine. You only need to clock out if you need extra time beyond what’s reasonable. The law allows you to take a lactating break once every few hours, as needed.
3. Schedule Adjustments for Doctor’s Appointments
Pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions often require frequent visits to doctor’s offices, especially if your pregnancy comes with additional health complications.
U.S. law recognizes this reality for many pregnant workers and protects their right to take care of their health as well as the health of their baby. Workers on the job from 9-5 may struggle to find appointments outside of their work hours — but no one should have to miss important doctor’s appointments because of an inflexible work schedule.
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, your employer must provide reasonable accommodation on your work schedule so you can get the medical attention you need. In addition, your company must allow schedule adjustments such as reduced or modified hours.
4. Medical Leave for Pregnancy-Related Treatment
If you work for a company with over 15 employees, you can get unpaid medical leave for pregnancy-related conditions under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Work-leave is considered to be a reasonable accommodation under the law.
The ADA does not specify how much leave time an employee can take — rather, the reasonable accommodation must be determined on an individual employee basis, considering each worker’s disability and the job position they hold.
If your employer qualifies for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), workers who are pregnant or have recently given birth can take up to 12 months of unpaid, protected leave. That means your job or a similar position will be waiting for you when you get back.
Some states even offer additional family and medical leave benefits, especially states that have strong worker protection laws (California, for example). You can take your legally protected leave in parts, intermittently, or all at once — whichever works the best for you.
5. The Ability to Sit Even for Typically Standing Jobs
A simple task like standing can become excruciatingly difficult when your body is carrying and supporting a baby, especially if you’re on your feet for hours at a time.
Workers who are pregnant or recovering from childbirth can request seating even when their jobs normally require standing. Your employer could provide a stool or a chair or even an ergonomic solution that helps manage the physical symptoms of your condition.
Small, simple accommodations like seating can make a huge difference for pregnant employees. You may also request accommodations like the ability to keep food or drinks at your workstation even if they’re not normally allowed.
6. The Ability to Work Remotely
The ability to work remotely can be a game-changer and lifesaver for employees dealing with the effects of pregnancy or the aftermath of childbirth.
If you’re able to complete your job remotely without creating an undue burden for your company, you could request remote work as a pregnancy accommodation. This option may be ideal for pregnant women who are especially hard-hit with pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness or who are ordered to bed rest.
What to Do If You’re Experiencing Pregnancy Discrimination
Pregnancy and other related conditions create additional challenges and difficulties for employees who are just trying to do their work. Real, concrete accommodations can help ease the burdens that pregnant workers carry into the workplace.
If your employer refuses to make reasonable accommodations as required under the law, you could file a complaint, legal claim, or lawsuit for pregnancy discrimination.
Pregnant employees have rights under the law. If your employer denies your rights, you can turn to the law for a legal remedy. A pregnancy discrimination lawsuit can lead to a settlement or judgment that compensates you for any damages you’ve suffered or income you’ve lost as a result of your employer’s failure to accommodate you as required by law.
Additionally, it’s also illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for complaining about pregnancy discrimination. Retaliation happens when a company takes negative action against an employee for exercising their legal rights — for example, by firing or demoting them.
The employment lawyers at the Wilshire Law Firm have years of experience fighting for the rights of pregnant workers to get the accommodations they need at work. If your company has failed to accommodate your needs around your pregnancy, you should talk to our nationally recognized legal team about your case as soon as possible.
Our top-rated attorneys are available 24/7 for your convenience and we work on a contingency fee basis so you don’t pay us until we recover compensation for you. Call us at (800) 501-3011 or fill out our contact form now for your FREE case consultation.