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Could accommodations be required for pregnant employees?

Pregnancy discrimination, like other forms of bias and prejudice, is still present in American workplaces. However, it may not be recognized or remedied in the same way. Part of the reason behind this is the vagueness set forth in the 1987 Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which calls for pregnant employees to be treated equally to other workers who have similar abilities. Unfortunately, it does not require employers to give pregnant workers “reasonable accommodations” similar to those guaranteed through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Despite this shortcoming, things may be changing for pregnant employees. Legislative support is being sought for the Pregnancy Workers Fairness Act, which would essentially incorporate the core ADA language into a new bill specifically work pregnant workers, that would make it clear that such workers are entitled to accommodations.

However, the bill treads some fine lines when it comes to who exactly needs an accommodation and could face some difficulty considering the meandering definition of the term “disabled.” A number of employees, especially those in white collar positions, are able to work throughout their pregnancies without special accommodations; but those in physically demanding (and low-paying) positions may need legislated protections to shield them from overzealous supervisors.

With a large majority of mothers in the workplace, and a considerable number of women who will be pregnant at some point in their careers, it would seem that such a bill would receive a substantial amount of support. In the meantime, a number of pregnancy discrimination cases are making their way through the legal system, and the U.S. Supreme Court may yet weigh in on the issue.

Source: “Making the case for treating pregnancy like a disability (really),” Shannon Kelly, March 5, 2014

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