Work/Life Squeeze: Federal and State Pregnancy Protections

DMEC Staff@Work

Federal and State Pregnancy Protections: The Ultimate Caregiver

By Marti Cardi, JD

VP Product Compliance
Matrix Absence Management

Your pregnant employees face significant caregiver demands that can affect their engagement at work. They also enjoy substantial federal and state caregiver protections, including on-the-job accommodations, leave of absence, and nondiscrimination.

Federal Pregnancy Protections

Title VII — Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). Enacted in 1978, the PDA was intended to prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. In general, the PDA requires that pregnant women who are able to work be permitted to do so under the same conditions and to be treated the same as employees with non-pregnancy-related conditions.1

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). A “normal” pregnancy is not an ADA-qualifying disability; however, pregnancy-related complications can be.2 The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has identified pregnancy discrimination as a top strategic priority for enforcement proceedings and will broadly interpret when pregnancy-related conditions are considered disabilities under the ADA.

State Pregnancy Protections

To date, 20 states and the District of Columbia have special laws protecting pregnant employees (and applicants), many of which require the employer to provide reasonable accommodations, even if the employee is not disabled by the pregnancy. The state laws are a patchwork of employee rights and employer responsibilities and obligations. It is important for employers to understand their obligations in each state in which they have employees.

Here are some of the common features of these laws:

  • Require the employer to grant a requested leave of absence for pregnancy disability and/or childbirth (including California, Washington, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, and Louisiana). Many laws also provide that the employer cannot require the employee to take a leave if she doesn’t want it and is still able to work, with or without an accommodation.
  • Mandate the employer to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees in the workplace, even if they are not disabled by pregnancy. The laws often refer to accommodating the “common conditions of pregnancy.”
  • Require an employer to grant certain accommodations without medical certification to support the employee’s need. For example, in Massachusetts, employers are required to provide pregnant employees with more frequent rest, water, and food breaks; seating; and limits on lifting over 20 pounds — any and all, upon request and without supporting medical documentation.
  • A detailed laundry list of “reasonable accommodations” that the employer is required to consider and explore with its pregnant employees (and applicants), such as a temporary transfer to a less strenuous position, modified work schedule, and provision of or modification of equipment.

Most of these laws also have special notice provisions, often requiring notice of the employee’s rights to be posted and provided to employees within a short time after learning from the employee that she is pregnant. And, of course, these laws protect pregnant employees and applicants from discrimination and retaliation both in connection with their status as pregnant employees and in connection with their requests for accommodations.

References

  1. For more detail on employers’ responsibilities for pregnant employees, see the EEOC Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues (last updated June 2015). Retrieved from https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pregnancy_guidance.cfm.
  2. A “pregnancy related impairment” that substantially limits a major life activity is an ADA-qualifying disability. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(h).
  3. For a comprehensive summary of state pregnancy laws by Matrix, visit https://matrixcos.com/MatrixAbsenceManagement/media/docs/Matrix-Cardi-Cohen.pdf.