The United States Supreme Court recently announced that it will hear a case involving pregnancy discrimination at work. A female driver for UPS became pregnant in 2006. She was told by her doctor not to lift objects weighing more than 20 pounds for the first half of her pregnancy, and not more than 10 pounds afterwards.
According to the woman, she told UPS about the issue and asked for a different job assignment, since her current job involved lifting heavy packages. UPS told her that the union contract made light-duty job assignments available only to workers with job-related injuries, those who were permanently disabled, and those who lost their federal driver’s certification. Employees with non-job-related injuries could not obtain light-duty job assignments.
The woman went on an unpaid leave of absence, and returned to work after her baby was born. She sued UPS, alleging that it violated the U.S. Pregnancy Discrimination Act. A federal judge as well as the court of appeals ruled against her, claiming that because UPS’s policy treated pregnant and non-pregnant workers the same, UPS did not violate the law.
The woman appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that pregnancy-discrimination law requires her to be given an accommodation comparable to those received by other workers with an inability to work, regardless of how the disability originated. The Obama administration agreed that the court erred, but recommended that the U.S. Supreme Court not hear the case, because a different federal law, the Americans with Disabilities Act, was amended in 2008 to require accommodations for those workers who have temporary disabilities, such as pregnancy.
Pregnant women have a lot of legal rights in the workplace. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which was passed in 1978, women cannot be discriminated against at work based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, job assignments, promotions, pay, training, benefits, or any other term or condition of employment. Under that law, pregnant women must be treated the same as other employees in the workplace and cannot be discriminated against.
There are other federal laws which protect pregnant women as well. The Americans with Disabilities Act, which was modified in 2008, provides that if a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer must treat her the same way as any other temporarily disabled employee. Also, under the Family and Medical Leave Act, a new parent may be eligible for up to 12 weeks or leave, either paid or unpaid, that can be used to care for the new child. The employee must have worked for the employer for at least a year before taking the leave, and worked at least a certain number of hours in that year, and the employer must have a specified number of employees. Finally, nursing mothers now have the right to have reasonable break times in which to express breast milk for a nursing child up to one year after the child’s birth. Employers must provide a place for the employee to do so, other than a bathroom, that is private.
In addition to the federal laws protecting pregnant women at work, many states have laws as well which give pregnant women a lot of rights in the workplace. In California, pregnant women are eligible for pregnancy disability leave regardless of the length of time she has worked for the employer, and she does not have to be a full-time employee in order to be eligible. In addition, the employer must provide up to four months of disability leave for pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. California law also has other standard provisions which provide accommodations to pregnant women.
The bottom line is that it’s never been a better time for pregnant women in the workplace. However, many employees still fail to accommodate pregnant women in the manner the law requires. At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty believes that pregnant women should be given all of the rights under the law to which they are entitled without being forced to file a lawsuit or find a new job. If your legal rights were violated as a pregnant person in the workplace, call Micha Star Liberty at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. She is an Oakland employment attorney who helps employees get the rights they deserve.