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During pregnancy and postpartum, some women experience no, or very few, limitations. But at certain points during their pregnancies or recovery, some women may be limited in their ability to perform certain tasks such as heavy lifting, climbing ladders, or running. Some women may develop complications as a result of pregnancy or childbirth, such as diabetes, back impairment, high blood pressure, urinary tract infections, severe dehydration, and depression. And for some women, pregnancy and childbirth may exacerbate existing impairments. As a result, women who are working during pregnancy may require job accommodations during and after their pregnancies.
Pregnancy affects women in different ways. Some women experience no, or very few, limitations affecting their ability to work. Others may experience limitations that lead to the need for accommodations. For example, fatigue, sickness, or pain may impact attendance; restrictions in lifting, standing, or bending may affect ability to meet the physical demands of a job; or the need to eat and drink frequently, or wear more comfortable clothing may affect adherence to certain policies. Limitations can sometimes result from pregnancy-related complications, like gestational diabetes, back pain, high blood pressure (known as preeclampsia), urinary tract infections, severe dehydration, and depression. Also, pregnancy and childbirth may exacerbate existing medical impairments.
Pregnancy and the Americans with Disabilities Act
Does federal law require employers to make accommodations for pregnant workers?
Yes. There are two federal laws that may require an employer to accommodate a pregnant worker: the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
What does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act require?
The PDA is a federal statute that protects pregnant workers and requires covered employers to make job-related modifications for pregnant employees. The PDA forbids employment discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. The law requires employers to treat a pregnant employee who is temporarily unable to perform, or is limited in performing, the functions of her job because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition in the same manner as it treats other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.
Under the PDA, a covered employer is responsible for making job-related modifications (or accommodations) for pregnant workers when the employer does so for other employees who are similarly limited in their ability to perform job functions. A change in duties can include, for example, light duty, alternative assignments, additional breaks, or unpaid leave. For example, an employer with a policy of accommodating most non-pregnant employees with lifting limitations would be required to also accommodate pregnant employees with lifting limitations.
What does the Americans with Disabilities Act require?
The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, so long as doing so does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. Although pregnancy alone is not a disability under the ADA, many pregnancy-related conditions are disabilities that an employer may have to accommodate under the ADA.
To have a disability under the ADA, an individual must have an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Changes in the interpretation of the definition of the term “disability” resulting from enactment of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) make it easier for employees who have pregnancy-related impairments to demonstrate that they have disabilities for which they may be entitled to reasonable accommodation. For example, the following pregnancy-related conditions may be disabilities under the ADA: anemia, sciatica, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, morning sickness, swelling in the legs, depression, or other impairments that substantially limit a major life activity or the normal functioning of a bodily system.
Accommodations can include a modified schedule, ability to have snacks or drinks at a workstation, a modified attendance policy, frequent breaks, sitting, light duty, or leave, among other solutions.
Is light duty required for pregnant workers?
Under federal law, an employer must treat women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions the same as other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work with respect to light duty. If light duty is provided to other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work (e.g., those injured on the job), an employer may have to provide temporary light duty to an employee due to pregnancy. An employer that provides light duty to other employees cannot justify denying it to a pregnant worker just because it would be more expensive or less convenient to do so. Additionally, light duty may be an appropriate reasonable accommodation for individuals with pregnancy-related disabilities under the ADA.
Can an employer require a pregnant worker to take leave even if she can perform job functions with or without accommodation?
No. An employer may not force an employee to take leave because she is or has been pregnant, as long as she is able to perform her job duties. If an employee is limited in performing job duties and is entitled to an accommodation under the PDA or ADA (see above), reasonable accommodations may need to be provided to help her perform job duties. Requiring an employee to take leave against her wishes violates the PDA even if the employer believes it is acting in the employee's best interest. If an employee has been absent from work as a result of a pregnancy-related condition and then recovers, her employer may not require her to remain on leave until the baby's birth; nor may an employer prohibit an employee from returning to work for a certain length of time after childbirth.
- For more information, see the EEOC's Questions and Answers about the EEOC's Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues.
Accommodating Employees with Pregnancy
Women who are pregnant may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all women who are pregnant will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
A customer service agent for an insurance company was pregnant and experiencing significant leg and back pain when sitting for long periods of time.
She also needed to use the restroom frequently. The employer provided an adjustable workstation to enable the employee to alternate between sitting and standing positions. The employer also allowed her to take more frequent rest breaks by dividing her existing thirty-minutes of break time into several smaller increments of time so she could use the restroom as-needed.
A nursing assistant for a rehabilitation hospital was in the third trimester of her pregnancy and, due to complications, was restricted from lifting more than twenty pounds.
Her job was restructured temporarily to assign her to care for patients who did not require transfer assistance and was permitted to ask co-workers for assistance when she needed to move items weighing more than twenty pounds.
A social media coordinator with preeclampsia was placed on bed rest during the last month of her pregnancy.
She was restricted from climbing, walking, and standing for extended periods of time. She also required a reduced schedule of working no more than six hours per day. The majority of her job tasks could be completed on-line. She was permitted to reduce her schedule and work from home for the duration of her pregnancy. She attended team meetings using a videoconferencing app.
A receptionist for a law firm required time to express breast milk for her baby during her work day.
She was provided a private space that was shielded from view and free from intrusion and reasonable break time to express milk, as-needed. A co-worker served as back-up receptionist during these short breaks. The employee was also allowed to flex her schedule to make-up any extended time taken, beyond ordinary breaks. She kept a small cooler at her workstation for storing milk.
A quality inspector for a manufacturing company was experiencing painful swelling in her legs, ankles, and feet during pregnancy.
Her job required standing for long periods of time and she needed to be somewhat mobile. Her medical provider recommended that she take breaks to get off her feet. The employer provided a stand/lean stool to enable her to take pressure off her feet, as-needed, added anti-fatigue matting to her work area, and permitted the employee to rest with her feet up during breaks.
JAN Publications & Articles Regarding Pregnancy
Accommodation and Compliance Series
Consultants' Corner Articles
- Accommodations Related to Commuting To and From Work
- Best Practices for Addressing Requests for Ergonomic Chairs
- Confidentiality of Medical Information under the ADA
- Hidden Disabilities: Confidentiality and Travel
- How does the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Apply to Employees Who Have Infertility?