(This post was written by Allen Smith for SHRM. It has been edited for ease of understanding).
In its first major update of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on pregnancy discrimination since 1983, the agency on July 14, 2014, added provisions explaining when the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) might require reasonable accommodations for workers with pregnancy-related disabilities or work restrictions.
Under the current guidance, Scott Fanning, an attorney with Fisher & Phillips in Chicago, said employers should be “cautious with pregnant employees. Treat them as you would anyone else.” He noted that under the guidance in terms of accommodations, pregnant employees with disabilities (which arguably might even include morning sickness or high blood pressure) have the same accommodation rights that any other individuals with disabilities would have.
The guidance listed reasonable accommodations a pregnant worker with disabilities might need, such as:
- Redistributing marginal or nonessential functions (such as lifting) that a pregnant worker cannot perform, or altering how an essential or marginal function is performed.
- Modifying workplace policies, such as allowing a pregnant worker more frequent breaks or allowing her to keep a water bottle at a workstation even though keeping drinks at workstations is generally prohibited.
- Modifying a work schedule so that someone who experiences severe morning sickness can arrive later than her usual start time and leave later to make up the time.
- Allowing a pregnant worker placed on bed rest to telework where feasible.
- Granting leave in addition to what an employer would normally provide under a sick leave policy.
- Purchasing or modifying equipment, such as a stool for a pregnant employee who needs to sit while performing job tasks typically performed while standing.
- Temporarily reassigning an employee to a light-duty position.
In addition, the guidance listed best practices in providing reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, such as:
- Have a process in place for expeditiously considering reasonable accommodation requests made by employees with pregnancy-related disabilities, and for granting accommodations where appropriate.
- State explicitly in any written reasonable accommodation policy that reasonable accommodations may be available to individuals with temporary impairments, including impairments related to pregnancy.
- Make any written reasonable accommodation procedures an employer may have widely available to all employees, and periodically remind them that the employer will reasonably accommodate employees with disabilities who need them, absent undue hardship.
- Train managers to recognize requests for reasonable accommodations, to respond promptly to all requests, and to avoid assuming that pregnancy-related impairments are not disabilities.
- Make sure that anyone designated to handle requests for reasonable accommodations knows that the definition of the term “disability” is broad and that employees requesting accommodations, including employees with pregnancy-related impairments, should not be required to submit more than reasonable documentation to establish that they have covered disabilities.
- If a particular accommodation requested by an employee cannot be provided, explain why and offer to discuss the possibility of providing an alternative accommodation.
Employers with questions on how to address this should contact the Dacri HR HelpLine.