Pregnancy Light Duty Rules: What You Need to Know
You May Be Entitled to Job Accommodations
Are you pregnant and employed? If so, hopefully you won’t be too shocked at the way your employer treats you after they hear the news.
Pregnancy discrimination is a huge problem in American companies. A recent New York Times investigation uncovered numerous instances where pregnant women asked for light duty accommodation and were refused.
“Light duty” generally refers to less physically taxing work, often given on a short-term basis to help workers with temporary injuries keep their jobs while they recover. Pregnancy isn’t an injury or disability, but pregnant workers may be entitled to light duty under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).
If you’re pregnant, you may be entitled to light-duty accommodation—but the rules around this aren’t exactly straightforward. Here’s a breakdown.
Does My Employer Have to Provide Light Duty?
Technically, light duty isn’t just for pregnant women. It’s for any worker recovering from an injury, and it’s assumed that the person will eventually be able to return to their previous job.
The PDA doesn’t require all employees to offer light-duty work to pregnant women. What it does require is that pregnant women be treated equally. If an employer offers light duty to other workers with injuries, they may also have to offer it to you when you’re pregnant.
Of course, this is a simplification. Some employers have argued and won in court that they have a compelling reason to treat pregnant employees differently. The bar for this is high, though; it isn’t enough for the employer to claim it’s too expensive or inconvenient.
Some cities in Pennsylvania (including Philadelphia) have laws on the books requiring employers to provide light-duty accommodation for pregnant employees even if they don’t do this for non-pregnant employees.
Can My Employer Force Me to Take Light Duty?
The simple answer is no—your employer can’t put you on light duty without your consent based on assumptions they make about your health and capabilities. Doing so would violate the PDA because pregnant women may not be subjected to additional health or medical screenings that aren’t required of other employees.
However, if your company requires all employees to pass physicals to demonstrate fitness for duty, that may be another story. If everyone in a certain position must be able to lift 40 pounds and you’re unable to while pregnant, then the company may relocate you to another position, put you on light duty, or even force you to take leave in some circumstances.
What If My Employer Refuses to Give Me Light Duty?
If you’re pregnant and your employer has refused your request for light duty, you should talk to a lawyer who specializes in employment law. A lawyer with this expertise will help you find out if your rights are being violated, and what to do about it.
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