ADA pregnancy: Everything You Need to Know
Employers must provide appropriate accommodations for pregnant employees and comply with Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).8 min read
What is ADA Pregnancy?
Companies must comply with ADA pregnancy requirements. Employers must provide appropriate accommodations for pregnant employees and comply with Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Accommodations of this sort must be based on the specific individual and considering the person’s specific needs and wants.
Information about Pregnancy and Work
In today’s world, women work while pregnant more than they have before. According to the Pew Research Center, there are more women who are working while pregnant, and they are also continuing to stay at work through later pregnancy terms. Even more, they return to work much sooner after giving birth.
While pregnancy is a wonderful time, there are also associated challenges for some women at work. They may experience limitations and complications that go along with pregnancy.
These women working during pregnancy may need some changes to accommodate them during and after pregnancy. Every woman is affected differently with their pregnancy. Some can have no, or very few, restrictions on their work.
Some other women may have restrictions that lead to a need for changes in their workspace. For example, they maybe experience fatigue, sickness, or pain. They may not be able to lift, stand for long periods of time, or they may not bend over so well, which can affect their ability to meet the physical demands of a job. They may also be required to eat and drink more often, or wear more comfortable clothing that is not in line with a dress code or uniform.
Some problems can arise from complications of pregnancy, including back pain, preeclampsia or high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and UTIs, lack of water, pregnancy-associated depression, and worse symptoms of pre-existing medical problems.
Does Federal Law Force Employers to Accommodate Workers Who are Pregnant?
Two federal laws require employers to change things for employees who are pregnant: the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is one, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is the second.
What Does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act Say Employers Have to Do?
The PDA means that pregnant workers are protected from discrimination and requires that their employers make any requested job-related modifications for those employees who are pregnant.
Pregnant employees who have temporary restrictions on their work are protected by law from employer retaliations. They might be limited to performing the functions of their job due to being pregnant, having just given birth, or some other medical issue. Therefore, the employer has to treat the pregnant employee in the same manner as it treats other employees who have other disabilities.
Employers have to make any adjustments to allow workers who are pregnant to perform their job duties, just like they do when employees have a disability and have limitations in how to do their job.
Changes in duties include different tasks that are easier, more break time, and even leave without pay. If an employer has a policy that accommodates disabled employees who have restrictions on lifting things, they are also required to make changes for employees who are pregnant and have limitations on lifting things.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
Employers, under the ADA, have to make adjustments that are reasonable for employees who have disabilities. These changes must be made if they do not cause excessive limitations for the employer.
Under the ATA, while being pregnant is not considered a disability, there are some pregnancy-related issues that could be identified as disabilities, which would result in an employer needing to make appropriate adjustments for the employee. This individual has to have an impairment, to be disabled under the ADA, that really limits at least one major life activity.
Changing the definition of the term “disability” is a result of the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). This change means it is easier to demonstrate that pregnancy-related issues are to be considered disabilities under the ADA. This would mean they are protected under the ADA to have accommodations made for them.
Some conditions related to pregnancy that could be labeled as disabilities under the ADA include morning sickness, anemia, diabetes during pregnancy, high blood pressure, severe sickness in the mornings, swelling, edema, mood swings, and any other issue resulting from pregnancy that limits activity or usual daily bodily functions.
Adjustments to the workplace could be as simple as a different schedule, relaxed rules about eating at the desk, eased or changed attendance policy, more breaks, fewer or easier tasks, more vacation or sick time, and more.
State Accommodation Laws
Various state laws and local laws offer protection from discrimination due to pregnancy, requirements for making work adjustments, and more rights for pregnant workers taking leave from work. These laws extend the requirements of federal law. There are states that have laws expressly requiring employers to provide reasonable adjustments for employees who cannot do their full work because of being pregnant, having just given birth, or other issues as long as those changes can be made without excessive hardship for the company.
Many states have pregnancy-related legislation that they have provided in response to unclear federal mandates to provide accommodations for pregnant workers.
Light Duty Work
Federal law states that companies must treat their employees affected by being pregnant, having just given birth, or other conditions with the same adjustments that they do for employees with disabilities who cannot do their regular work.
If other employees with similar disabilities have to do light duty work (e.g., employees injured on the job), then an employer must give similar accommodations for employees who have complications from or symptoms of pregnancy.
An employee cannot be forced to take leave by her employer simply because of a pregnancy situation if she is capable of performing her job duties.
Employees are entitled to adjustments that are reasonable if they have limited ability to perform their job duties, according to the PDA or ADA.
However, having an employer require that an employee take leave when they don’t want to is against the wants of the employee and therefore is in violation of the PDA. This is the case despite the employer’s belief that they are making choices in the employee's best interests. This means that when an employee has not been at work because of health issues related to their pregnancy, then they recover, the employer still cannot force the employee to stay on leave. The employer also cannot tell the employee how long to stay on leave after the child is born.
FMLA gives the right to have up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for medical needs for prenatal care, morning illness, giving birth, and new children bonding (men get bonding leave too). For those not covered by FMLA, there may be other state or local laws that give more leave or that will cover those who do not fall under FMLA rules.
There are no laws that provide paid leave on a federal level. Some companies do give their employees paid leave, though, and some states have rules for partial and short-term income while employees are out on pregnancy or parental leave.
The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act amended section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) so that it says employers under the act have to make changes for nursing mothers protected by the law. Employees have coverage under the law even when they reach overtime under the FLSA). According to the law, companies have to give employees covered under the law breaks that allow them to pump or extract breast milk for nursing children up to 12 months after birth. These breaks must be allowed whenever the employee needs to express milk. They also have to provide a private space that is not a bathroom and that is free from accidental access by coworkers or others and that is available for use by employees to collect breast milk.
The law also requires companies to make adjustments for nursing mothers for other additional situations. For example, employees should have the same workplace accommodations, like time and space to do what they must do for lactation needs, as other employees have when they need to make changes or take actions for other medical issues.
If sick leave or doctor appointments are allowed reasons for schedule changes, etc. for sick or disabled employees, then pregnancy-related issues should be allowed the same changes and courtesies.
Accommodations for Pregnant or Nursing Employees
Some issues pregnant women might experience are nausea and vomiting, which are common during the early weeks of pregnancy. Sometimes these employees have various levels of nausea or vomiting during the whole pregnancy.
An overview of some of the accommodations that might be useful for employees who are pregnant or nursing include the following:
- Restroom breaks should be longer and more frequent.
- Workstations should be nearer to the bathrooms
- Rest areas for lying down should be included
- Food and drinks should be accessible
- Help increase calorie consumption and hydration by allowing eating and drinking at workstations
- Change the lighting and noise levels
- Ease the schedule of work and add flexible schedules
- Make working from home allowed
- Take away stress and other physical requirements of the job
- Give breaks that are away from the employee’s desk
- Change the desk and accessories to ergonomic ones
- Give access to closer parking areas or a particular parking space
- Offer shuttle service if the parking area is far away from the building
- Reduce the amount of walking required
- Keep the desk closer to the entry of the building
- Offer mobile assistance devices like scooters, etc.
- Allow for flexibility in time off options
- Adjust the policy for attendance
- Have specific shifts instead of rotating ones
- Modify the desk height or the computer viewing angles
- Have materials and equipment closer in reach
- Offer chair that is adjustable
- Give options that allow for easy change between sitting and standing
- Offer lumbar pillow/back rest and feet rests
- Use ergonomic wrist rests for keyboard and mouse use
- Offer voice recognition software
- Have headsets available for employees who use the phone often
- limit reaching and bending
Remember that sometimes pregnant woman have fatigue when they are pregnant. This is somewhat common in the first and last trimesters. There are other considerations for pregnant women, such as:
- Restroom use: pregnant women might have to use the restroom more often.
- Parking/Walking: long distances might be difficult for pregnant women. Accommodations might be required for parking so that they have simpler and closer access to the building.
- Sometimes making it to work can be more difficult when a woman is pregnant for many reasons. Sometimes having nausea or tiredness or other conditions related to pregnancy or even additional doctor visits might be necessary for those employees. Sometimes all they need is a little more flexible schedule and location for work.
- Pregnant employees could also need some adjustments to the ergonomics of their workstations to improve their productivity and lessen how their pregnancy limits or affects their work. Some issues on this topic could include carpal tunnel syndrome and pain in the back and neck.
- Employees who are pregnant could have limitations on how much they can lift or reach, and even how much they can push or pull items. However, some may need adjustments more than others, and some might not need adjustments at all.
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