When an employee has a high-risk pregnancy, HR professionals frequently ask about handling accommodation requests.
Federal laws that may come into play are the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
How do the Federal Laws Help Me?
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an employer is required “to treat an employee temporarily unable to perform the functions of her job because of her pregnancy or a related medical condition in the same manner as it treats other employees similar in their ability or inability to work, whether by providing modified tasks, alternative assignments or fringe benefits such as disability leave,” according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Generally, this means employers can’t discriminate against employees because they are pregnant. For example, companies can’t deny them light-duty work, modified schedules, or leaves of absence if the same flexibility is provided to non-pregnant employees.
If an employer and a pregnant employee meet FMLA eligibility criteria, the employee may be able to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in 12 months. The leave may be for full-time or part-time employees. If the leave is part-time, the employee could work a reduced schedule. This could be four hours a day or take time off intermittently, such as every Thursday, for medical appointments. However, the FMLA doesn’t require an employer to provide light-duty work.
To be protected under the ADA, an employee must have or be regarded as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Pregnancy alone isn’t a disability. But an employee may have a pregnancy-related impairment, such as preeclampsia or sciatica, which may be covered under the ADA.
What are other options?
Some states and localities also offer job protections for pregnant employees beyond what federal law allows. Often, time off under the state plan runs concurrently with leave under the FMLA. Sometimes it provides employees job-protected leave beyond 12 weeks. Employers should check their state and local laws.
When an employee isn’t eligible for accommodations under federal, state, or local laws, making accommodations will usually be a matter of company policy and practice—unless there is an employment contract in place or a union presence, in which case, other rules may apply.
Remember, employees, don’t need to use the word “accommodation” when making a request. They could simply say they need help or time off due to their pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition. When this occurs, the employer should engage in an interactive process to determine which laws and policies apply.
Amber Clayton, SHRM-SCP, is the director of SHRM’s HR Knowledge Center.
Pregnancy accommodations are unlike other accommodations. They trigger some protections unique to pregnant workers and also trigger some protections afforded to disabled workers. Call Cramer Law to discuss further.