Question: Can my employer make me lift when my doctor says I cannot lift anything over 20 pounds during the first three months of my pregnancy?
I am pregnant and my doctor immediately tells me I should not be lifting more than 20 pounds during the first 3 months of my pregnancy. My job does involve some lifting.
What are my rights? Does my employer have a legal obligation to modify my job or to find me another position at the company? Can I be fired if I refuse to lift and put my unborn child at risk? Maybe. But in a recent ruling the U.S. Supreme Court has ensured more protection for pregnant employees who have job limitations from their physicians.
Answer: Pregnancy Discrimination is a form of unlawful Sex Discrimination
If your employer allows non-pregnant employees to work with job limitations (such as lifting no more than 20 pounds) but does not accommodate pregnant workers in the same way, it could be violating the Pregnancy Discrimination in Employment Act, part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Since Title VII became law, it has been illegal for employers to discriminate against women (or men) in the workplace. The most fundamental biological difference between men and women is that women carry children and give birth.
Discrimination based on pregnancy is a form of sex discrimination.
I have spoken to many women during my legal career that fear telling their employers that they are pregnant. They fear that pregnancy and the need for medical accommodations and ultimately maternity leave will draw discipline and/or termination.
One of my clients had all of her supervisory duties removed during pregnancy, and she was no longer a supervisor at all when she returned from childbirth. Some employers don’t want to deal with the uncertainty of whether a pregnant employee will return to work after childbirth, and some don’t want modify job duties, even temporarily, for their pregnant employees.
In many cases, employers shouldn’t refuse to accommodate medical limitations related to pregnancy
The Supreme Court has now essentially held that, if an employer allows men and non-pregnant workers job modifications for disabilities or work-related injuries, then pregnant women should be allowed similar job modifications if medically necessary during pregnancy.
An employer cannot simply refuse to accommodate medical limitations related to pregnancy, in addition to other similarly disabling conditions, because doing so would be more expensive for the company.
This is a landmark decision, and many employers are reviewing their existing policies to make sure their policies properly accommodate pregnant women. If you are pregnant and having problems getting your employer to take your medical limitations seriously or if you’re a company and want to ensure you’re complying with the law, we can help.