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When employee has pregnancy complications, be prepared to consider ADA accommodations

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in Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

Pregnant employees have partial protection against discrimination under several state and federal laws, including the Pregnancy Dis­crimi­na­tion Act, Title VII’s sex discrimination provision and the FMLA. But you may not realize that a pregnant employee may also be covered by the ADA.

That can become important if a pregnant woman needs to take time off for doctors’ appointments or treatment of complications, but isn’t yet eligible for FMLA leave.

If you assume she is out of luck and terminate her, you may be violating the ADA.

Here’s why: The ADA’s definition of “disabled” can include pregnant women who are having serious complications related to a physiological disorder such as a malformed uterus or a hormonal imbalance.

If those disorders substantially im­­pair a major life activity like working or reproducing, the pregnant em­­ployee may be entitled to reasonable accommodations. That can include time off for complete bed rest or hormonal treatments.

Recent case: Victoria Serednyj worked for Beverly Healthcare as the activity director from August 2006 to March 2007. Her job included transporting elderly and disabled residents to various activities.

Serednyj became pregnant in January. By early February, she be­­gan experiencing complications such as cramping and bleeding and had to begin using hormone treatment to prevent a miscarriage. Her doctor told her she could no longer engage in heavy lifting.

She asked for a light-duty assignment or other accommodations to help her do her job, but Beverly Healthcare turned her down and terminated her. The company explained that she wasn’t eligible for FMLA leave and that it allowed no one ex­­cept disabled employees and those injured at work to have light-duty positions.

Serednyj sued, alleging that she should have been accommodated because she was disabled during her pregnancy.

The court, having the advantage of reviewing the case long after she safely gave birth to her child, carefully examined whether she met the ADA’s requirements. It said that in theory, a pregnant worker could be covered by the ADA if her condition was physiological and substantially impaired a major life activity.

In this case, Serednyj met the first requirement because she needed hormone supplements.

But she did not meet the second requirement. Since she gave birth to a healthy child, she was not substantially impaired in childbearing. Because being unable to lift heavy weights is common, that alone did not mean she was disabled from working.

The court tossed out her case. (Serednyj v. Beverly Healthcare, No. 10-2201, 7th Cir., 2011)

Final note: Be careful. It’s hard to tell during the early stages of pregnancy complications whether the employee may be impaired in reproduction. Plus, should doctors order complete bed rest, that in itself may be substantially impairing enough to qualify as disabling.

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