Certain pregnancy-related ailments are now classified for employment purposes as disabilities under an amendment to the Americans With Disabilities Amendments Act, meaning employers may now have a legal responsibility responsibility to extend light-duty options to pregnant employees - an opportunity not always traditionally afforded.
Our Charlotte workers' compensation lawyers know this has long been a contentious issues in workplaces and in the courts. It's often been referred to as the "light duty loophole." That is, while employers will often extend light duty assignments (meaning those that don't require strenuous physical activity, such as heavy lifting) to those workers who have been temporarily disabled as a result of job-related injuries, these same types of accommodations are not typically offered to pregnant women because pregnancy is not the result of an on-the-job injury.
This was true even when the women could provide a doctor's note, explaining why they were temporarily unable to carry out such tasks. As a result, many pregnant women are fired or forced to resign.
Of course, at its core, this is a discrimination issue for employment attorneys to sort out. But it's also a potential matter of workers' compensation. That's because pregnant women who are not afforded the opportunity to perform light duty tasks and avoid difficult physical labor have a higher risk of becoming injured as a result - particularly when that work is contrary to the recommendations of their physician.
Some of the workplace injuries to which pregnant women may be more susceptible include:
- Muscular stress;
- Slips and falls;
- Sprains and strains;
- Abdominal trauma;
- Repetitive stress injuries;
- Chemical exposure.
But the recently-expanded rules of the ADAAA could provide the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission better legal standing upon which to litigate the issue further and expand rights for pregnant workers.
As it stands now, the expanded ADAAA guidelines would now include certain common pregnancy-related conditions that would not have previously been covered under the light duty accommodation requirements. These would include things like gestational diabetes, sciatica, anemia and carpal tunnel syndrome.
What the EEOC wants to fight for is expanding that even further to include pregnancy in general. In the past, such arguments have not been successful.
Most recently, in Reeves v. Swift Transportation, the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2006 that an employer could provide light duty accommodations for workers who had sustained job-related injuries, but were not required to do so for pregnant workers - even when their doctors had ordered restrictions on their physical activities - so long as the policy applied to all workers with on-the-job injuries.
However, the EEOC, amid the new changes to the ADAAA, have already brought at least five pregnancy-related discrimination lawsuits in the last several months, in an apparent attempt to not only protect the rights of pregnant workers, but also to bolster their safety and reduce the risk of work-related injuries.