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Pregnancy Discrimination and Light Duty

Post by Benjamin Stark

Being pregnant is difficult, occasionally frustrating work!  One of the frustrations that comes with being pregnant is the physical limitations such pregnancy imposes.  For instance, doctors often order pregnant women to not lift anything over a certain number of pounds.  What can you do if your job requires you to lift something heavier than that limit?  And does the law require your employer to make accommodations for you in this situation?

One possible option is “light duty” – under which an employee is temporarily assigned duties that require less strenuous physical labor.  The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) requires that “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.”  42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k).  This means that if your employer allows non-pregnant employees (who are somehow limited in their ability to work) to use “light duty”, then it must also allow similarly-limited pregnant workers to have equal access to “light duty.”

This doesn’t always mean that the PDA requires your employer to provide you with “light duty.”  If your employer does not provide such duties to others, or has used up all its “light duty” slots, then the PDA does not requires the employer to provide “light duty” to others.  In other words, if “light duty” wouldn’t be available to a non-pregnant employee, the PDA does not require it to be available to a pregnant employee.  Also, at least in the states of Georgia, Florida and Alabama, the PDA does not require employers to provide “light duty” to pregnant workers if the employer only provides such duties to workers injured on the job.  Spivey v. Beverly Enters., 196 F.3d 1309 (11th Cir. 1999).

Does this leave the pregnant worker with no options?  Not necessarily.  You might look to see if your employer has consistently denied “light duty” to workers injured “off-the-job” or whether it has provided “light duty” to pregnant workers in the past.  Also, depending on the limitations your particular pregnancy creates, the Americans with Disabilities Act may require your employer to accommodate your limitations with “light duty” or other changes in their rules, even if they don’t usually provide such accommodations to their employees.  The EEOC recently commented on this requirement in a new Enforcement Guidance.

If you believe you may have been discriminated against because of your pregnancy, please contact us at our website www.justiceatwork.com.

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