Sheehan & Associates, P.L.C.

Is refusing workplace accomodations for pregnancy discrimination?

There are millions of working mothers in the United States, many of whom live in Michigan. Some pregnancies can make it harder for female employees to perform their work obligations at the same level as before becoming pregnant -- though any limitations experienced are typically temporary. Unfortunately, there are those who believe they have lost their jobs because of the medical restrictions physicians impose during their pregnancies, and because of employers refusing to make accommodations for those restrictions. As this impacts so many, numerous women will want to know if an employer refusing workplace  accommodations for pregnancy is a form of discrimination?

Employers are required by law to make reasonable allowances to assist certain employees with disabilities. Pregnancy, in general, is not considered a disability; however, there are many businesses that are willing to grant any needed accommodations. Others, though, do not believe pregnancy falls under their legal obligations to accommodate. These companies often have what is called a 'pregnancy-blind' policy. The recent findings by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case against UPS may, however, make it harder for employers to deny pregnant employees accommodations.

A former employee of UPS claims she was placed on leave and, eventually, fired due to lifting restrictions required by her physician during her pregnancy. While UPS drivers are required to lift up to 70 pounds, according to the plaintiff, other employees -- due to disabilities -- have been granted accommodations for lifting restrictions. The Supreme Court found that, while employers are not 100 percent required to make allowances for pregnant workers, those who do not will need to provide a strong reason for denying any requested job modifications. This is something many believe will prove difficult for employers.

So, is refusing accommodations for pregnant employees a form of discrimination? The Pregnancy Discrimination Act and court findings may support claims of discrimination in certain cases. Those who feel they are the victims of workplace discrimination, in Michigan or elsewhere, can seek legal assistance in taking such claims to court. If litigated successfully, compensation may be awarded.

Source: hbr.org, "What Young vs. UPS Means for Pregnant Workers and Their Bosses", Liz Morris, Cynthia Thomas Calvert and Joan C. Williams, March 26, 2015

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