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FMLA and PDA don’t preclude parents from travel

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,HR Management,Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

When it comes to special consideration for parents, the FMLA and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) provide limited protection. Employees expecting a child or with child care responsibilities are entitled to unpaid FMLA leave, and pregnant women can’t be discriminated against because of pregnancy.

That doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t require reasonable travel and punish those who refuse if they aren’t taking FMLA leave or don’t have any pregnancy complications that prevent travel.

Recent case: Christina Kenney worked for Utah-based Ultradent Products in New Jersey. While she was pregnant, she asked to be excused from an otherwise required annual sales meeting in Utah. Then, while she was still nursing her infant, she again asked to be excused and was.

When a third meeting came up, she again asked to be excused. This time, she wasn’t. But she missed the meeting, claiming she turned around when she had a panic attack. The company fired her for not showing up at the required Utah meeting.

Kenney sued under the PDA and New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination, alleging she was fired because she had been pregnant in the past. But the court tossed out her case, reasoning that she couldn’t show that anyone else outside her protected group had been excused when she wasn’t. Plus, her pregnancy was history, and she couldn’t show any connection between the pregnancy and her current panic attack. (Kenney v. Ultradent Products, No. 05-1851, ED NJ, 2007)

Final note: If she had presented a panic-attack diagnosis and could show it is a disability under the ADA, she might have argued that not traveling is a reasonable accommodation. Possible accommodations might include attending via satellite or phone hook-up. Kenney never raised an ADA claim or tried to show the panic attack was a disability.

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