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When pregnant worker can’t perform, factor in ADA, FMLA, PDA

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in Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

It can be complicated to handle a pregnant employee when she can’t perform some part of her job. That’s because three federal laws—the ADA, the FMLA and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)—intersect to provide protection for some pregnant workers who have medical restrictions.

Recent case: Peggy works part-time as a UPS delivery person. Her shift begins in the early morning when she drives her delivery van to the airport to meet flights. It ends mid-morning after she has finished delivering packages.

Peggy had trouble becoming pregnant and re­­sorted to in vitro fertilization. Fol­­low­­ing her third in vitro procedure, Peggy conceived.

Almost immediately, her doctors restricted her lifting to no more than 20 pounds.

Peggy took the medical restriction paperwork to her supervisor, who sent it on to HR. There, someone looked at her job description and concluded that she could no longer do her job because of the lifting restriction. However, she was not deemed disabled under the ADA because the lifting restriction was temporary and didn’t substantially impair a major life function.

Plus, it appeared that Peggy had used up all her FMLA leave while receiving in vitro treatment.

UPS has a light-duty program, but it is restricted to workers injured on the job and those with an ADA disability. Therefore, UPS concluded Peggy wasn’t eligible for a light-duty job. It barred her from working until her restrictions were lifted after birth or when her doctors gave the OK.

After delivering a healthy child, Peggy returned to work. Then she sued, alleging that UPS violated a host of federal employment laws, including the ADA, FMLA and PDA.

The court quickly eliminated the FMLA claim since it was clear Peggy had received all the leave she was due. It also sided with UPS on the ADA claim. Pregnancy itself is not typically a disability since it is temporary. Unless there are serious complications that continue after birth, pregnant workers aren’t entitled to accommodations, including assignment to light-duty work. Nor was the lifting restriction itself a disability since it was minor and not likely to substantially affect a major life function when compared to the average worker.

Finally, the court considered pregnancy discrimination and the way the light-duty policy was applied. No one who had an outside work injury was allowed to participate unless they were also disabled within the meaning of the ADA. That meant that if a male co-worker hurt himself at home and had a temporary 20-pound weight restriction, he would not be eligible for light-duty assignments either.

Therefore, the court said, the program didn’t discriminate against women in general or pregnant women specifically. The case was dismissed. (Young v. United Parcel Service, No. 11-2078, 4th Cir., 2013)

Note: Pregnancy-related problems are serious health conditions eligible for FMLA leave. However, they are unlikely to be considered disabilities.

Advice: If you have a light-duty policy covering ill or injured workers, apply it consistently—including to pregnant employees with medical restrictions. If you allow light duty to everyone, include pregnant employees. If you restrict it to disabled workers and those injured at work, don’t include pregnant workers.

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