If you’re pregnant and working, you may need your employer to make a few changes to accommodate a disabling condition related to pregnancy. You might need a restriction on the amount of weight you’re expected to lift. You may need a temporary transfer to a position that is less physically challenging. Perhaps your doctor recommends a shorter work day or additional breaks. Maybe all you need is a place to sit down every once in a while.
Unfortunately, some employers simply don’t provide these accommodations, even when restrictions are ordered by a doctor. This is even true at some companies where the same or similar accommodations are routinely approved for people with disabilities. When some people are given accommodations but others are not, the company could be guilty of discrimination.
EEOC takes issue with a Walmart policy
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has just filed suit against a division of Walmart for doing just that. According to the agency, a Walmart Distribution Center in another state had a “robust” light duty program in which people with disabilities were routinely granted lifting restrictions when necessary. Pregnant women, however, were not allowed to participate in that program.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of a woman who became pregnant in 2015. She made a series of accommodation requests, starting with a request for light duty or a transfer to a job where she could avoid heavy lifting. Walmart declined. She then asked for shorter work days, more breaks and even a chair. Walmart turned them all down, even though people with disabilities were routinely granted light duty and lifting restrictions. As a result, the plaintiff lost her benefits and was forced to reduce her hours and take unpaid leave.
This type of disparate treatment between pregnant and non-pregnant employees constitutes pregnancy discrimination, the EEOC says, and that violates both the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
According to a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision called Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., refusal to approve reasonable accommodations for pregnant women likely violates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Moreover, if a large percentage of non-pregnant workers are being offered accommodations but a large percentage of pregnant workers are not, the court said, the company may also be in violation of Title VII, which prohibits discrimination on account of sex.
Walmart, the country’s largest private employer, denies the allegations in the lawsuit. It told NPR that its accommodations program complies with or exceeds the requirements of both state and federal law, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
Yet the company is facing similar lawsuits in two other states. Walmart is facing accusations that thousands of retail workers were unfairly denied reasonable accommodations for their pregnancies.
Your right to equal accommodation
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination in hiring, working conditions, leaves, insurance and other benefits due to disabling conditions related to pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions.
According to the EEOC, if pregnancy or a related medical decision renders a woman temporarily unable to perform her job, her employer must accommodate her as it would any temporarily disabled worker. What is required is approval of accommodations that are reasonable, which means they do not create undue hardship (significant expense or difficulty) for the employer. It’s hard for employers to argue that an accommodation would cause undue hardship in the case of pregnancy when it grants that accommodation for others.
How well is your company accommodating your pregnancy?