I am Pregnant – Does My Employer’s “Light Duty” Policy Apply to Me?

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The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.  Employers must treat women affected by pregnancy or related conditions in the same manner as other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.

Recently, in Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., the Supreme Court of the United States decided an important issue relating to work place accommodations for pregnant women.  The question before the court was whether the PDA requires employers with existing “light duty” work policies to make the same accommodations for pregnant employees, as they do for employees with non-pregnancy related disabilities. 

In this case, a pregnant employee could no longer lift the required weight to perform her job.  Her employer had a “light duty for injury” policy that it applied to specific non-pregnancy related conditions.  These conditions included workplace injuries, employees who had lost their Department of Transportation certification, and disabilities as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act.  This meant that the employer did accommodate certain injuries at work, but that it did not consider pregnancy an injury, or disability, that would fall under this “light duty” policy.

The employee argued that the PDA requires an employer to provide the same accommodations to workplace disabilities caused by pregnancy that it provides to workplace disabilities that have other causes but have a similar effect on the ability to work.  In contrast, the employer argued that the PDA does no more than define sex discrimination to include pregnancy discrimination.

The Court decided on a balanced approach rather than implementing either extreme offered by the opposing parties.  This balanced approach came in a familiar form to employment based cases, and is known as the McDonnell Douglas framework.

This approach means that there is no automatic qualification, or disqualification, of a pregnant employee’s demand for the same work place accommodations that an employer provides to non-pregnancy related conditions.  Going forward, a plaintiff alleging that the denial of an accommodation constituted discrimination under the PDA may make out a case by showing that:

  • She belongs to the protected class
  • She sought accommodation
  • The employer denied the accommodation; and
  • The employer accommodated others “similar in their ability or inability to work”

Establishing this type of case and being prepared for the employer’s response is where you will need assistance from experienced employment attorneys.  The employer must provide its reasons for refusing the accommodations, but the burden is ultimately on the employee to show that the employer’s proffered reasons are in fact pretextual.  In order to reach a jury on this issue, the plaintiff must show evidence that the employer accommodates a large percentage of non-pregnant workers while failing to accommodate a large percentage of pregnant workers.

In summary, the short answer to the title question is “maybe.”  If you feel you are being refused a rightful accommodation, you should seek the advice of an employment attorney familiar with these types of matters.  At Wilson McCoy, P.A., we have a team of attorneys who customarily deal with pregnancy and accommodation issues.

If you would like to know more about your rights in your particular circumstance and to explore your options, please contact us at (407) 803-5400 or info@wilsonmccoylaw.com, for an analysis of your situation and to schedule a consultation.