Can Pregnant Employees Be Forced To Take Leave?
What women need to know about their rights related to pregnancy and work
Although women have been in the workforce for several decades now, laws governing pregnancy in the workplace are still evolving.
While pregnant workers are afforded some protection from discrimination and other unlawful treatment, these measures come in the form of a patchwork of laws and regulations that may be difficult to navigate.
That’s why it’s especially important for women to know what they are entitled to at work in relation to pregnancy.
Let’s take a look at a case in which a company subjected a woman to potentially unlawful treatment after learning of her pregnancy. Then we’ll discuss how the issues in this case may apply to other female employees.
Gossip About Worker’s Condition
At the Shipley Do-Nuts franchise in Texas where Brooke Foley worked, the rumor mill was abuzz — and the news was all about Foley. The scoop that everyone was whispering about: Foley was pregnant.
The gossip reached Foley’s boss quickly.
After hearing the news, the supervisor called an impromptu meeting with Foley and two of her coworkers. Foley was asked several intrusive personal questions, including whether or not she was pregnant. She refused to answer.
The supervisor told Foley that she would have to go on unpaid leave until she brought in a doctor’s note stating that it was safe for her to work. Foley was removed from the schedule.
She went home and discussed the issue with her mother. After doing some research, they came to the conclusion that the company wasn’t legally allowed to ask for such documentation.
Foley refused to bring in the doctor’s note. Several days later she was fired for not showing up for work, even though her name had been deleted from the schedule.
Foley complained to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which sued on her behalf.
The EEOC alleged that the company violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) by requiring Foley to prove that she was capable of working while allegedly pregnant.
At first, the company attempted to fight the case. However, after nearly a year of legal proceedings, it ultimately decided to settle rather than attempt to defend its actions in court. Shipley Do-Nuts agreed to pay a $45,000 settlement to Foley.
(The case discussed here is EEOC v. Shipley Do-Nuts.)
What the Pregnancy Discrimination Act Says
The PDA states that companies may not require pregnant women, or women
suspected of being pregnant, to provide medical documentation that wouldn’t
normally be required of other similarly-situated employees.
For example, as in the above case, employers generally may not require pregnant employees to prove that they’re able to continue working. However, if a company would normally require staffers to submit medical documentation before taking sick leave, then pregnant women would have to adhere to that rule as well.
As long as pregnant women can perform the essential tasks of their positions, they generally may not be forced to take leave, according to the PDA. If a woman has to take off due to a pregnancy-related condition and recovers, her employer may not force her to remain on leave.
The PDA also states that companies may not discriminate against employees on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. That pertains to:
- Fringe benefits
- Job assignments
Protection From Other Laws
Of course, some women may have physically demanding jobs that they are unable to perform while pregnant, or they may work in environments that could be harmful to them or their unborn children.
While pregnancy itself is not considered a disability under federal law, changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) make it easier for temporary conditions to qualify for ADA protection.
That means that some pregnant women may be entitled to job accommodations to allow them to continue to work while pregnant.
However, it’s important to know that issues surrounding disabilities
or temporary disabilities are determined on a case-by-case basis under the law.
Plus, accommodations for temporary disabilities may be dependent on employers’ policies for accommodating temporary disabilities other than pregnancy.
The upshot: Every woman’s circumstance is different, and requires careful consideration of all the factors involved.
Contact Us For a Consultation Now
As we stated above, navigating the complex framework of laws that pertain to pregnancy can be complicated.
If you feel that you’ve been subjected to unlawful pregnancy discrimination, it’s always a good idea to speak to an experienced employment law attorney. That way, you can get a better understanding of how the various laws apply to your circumstances.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.