Jun 11, 2015

Pregnant employees may need reasonable accommodations

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) forbids discrimination against employees based on pregnancy related to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, compensation, job assignments, promotions, fringe benefits, such as leave policies and health insurance, and any other term or condition of employment. In a recent decision entered on March 25, 2015, Young v. United Parcel Service, the U.S. Supreme Court clarified the broad scope of the PDA holding that an employer may be required to provide a reasonable accommodation to pregnant workers if they accommodate other non-pregnant employees for similar requested accommodations.

The Supreme Court’s decision involved the United Parcel Service’s (UPS) denial of light duty work to a pregnant employee, Peggy Young, who was a UPS driver. As a driver, she was expected to lift packages weighing up to 70 pounds. In 2006, Ms. Young became pregnant and her doctor advised that she should lift no more than 20 pounds early in her pregnancy and 10 pounds after 20 weeks. Ms. Young requested the light duty lifting accommodation and she was denied by UPS. After UPS denied the requested accommodation, Ms. Young was forced to take leave without pay. She sued UPS alleging that its conduct violated the PDA asserting that UPS accommodated other, non-pregnant workers with lifting restrictions. 

Rejecting UPS’s argument that the PDA simply prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy and does not require accommodations, the court held that the Act requires that a pregnant woman be treated no differently than other employees who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.”  Thus, a denial of an accommodation to a pregnant employee that is offered to other similarly situated non-pregnant employees may violate the PDA.

In light of this recent decision, employers must be careful to follow the Supreme Court’s guidance when a pregnant employee requests an accommodation. In order to properly manage such a request, employers should consult with legal counsel.
This Chuhak & Tecson, P.C. communication is intended only to provide information regarding developments in the law and information of general interest. It is not intended to constitute advice regarding legal problems and should not be relied upon as such.

Client Alert authored by: 
Ryan A. Haas