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Grant FMLA leave for pregnancy-related issues

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in FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources

Almost anything connected to a pregnancy can become the basis for a valid FMLA leave request, even if the employee is well. Take, for example, a doctor’s written notice that the pregnant employee should be placed on light-duty work for her own safety. If no such positions are available, you may have to allow the worker time off as FMLA leave.

Recent case: Claudia worked as a detention officer in a county prison. She took fingerprints, handled paperwork and was physically located with­­in the women’s pod ­sections of the prison. She had received safety training in how to defend herself against inmates.

Then she became pregnant. Her doctors were concerned about her physical safety because of her direct contact with prisoners. They recommended a light-duty assignment outside the prison pods. Since nothing was available, she was off work after HR placed her on FMLA leave. Eventually, Claudia had a miscarriage. When she tried to return, she learned she had been discharged.

She sued, alleging retaliation for taking FMLA leave and interference with that leave.

Prison officials argued that because there had been nothing wrong with Claudia other than being pregnant, she wasn’t eligible for FMLA leave after all. Therefore, she couldn’t sue for retaliation or interference. In other words, she was physically able to work in the pods, but couldn’t because of her doctor’s safety concerns—presumably because a heavily pregnant woman might have trouble fighting off prisoners.

The court said that because the restriction was related to her pregnancy, Claudia’s time off counted as FMLA leave. It didn’t matter whether she was physically well. (Elliott v. Rollins, et al., No. 5:11-CV-693, ED NC, 2013)

Final note: When in doubt, allow a pregnant woman to take FMLA leave for anything connected with the pregnancy.

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