Thursday, January 12, 2012

Should Pregnancy be Considered a Disability?

In a job that requires heavy lifting or being on your feet all day, pregnancy can not only make your job more painful, it could cause you to lose your job altogether. Although the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to treat pregnant women as they would other temporary disabled employees, pregnant workers have been fired across the country due to the physical limitations and requirements of their pregnancies. One employment discrimination expert has presented the case that pregnant women should be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to prevent such occurrences.

Currently, employers are not required by law to make accommodations to the work or environment so that a pregnant employee can continue working throughout her pregnancy even when it is possible to do. One pregnant woman was let go from her retail job because drinking water while on duty was against store policy. A pregnant police officer was let go because she could no longer complete the rigorous physical duties required of her, even though fellow officers injured on the job were afforded lighter work. 

Jennifer Cox, an associate law professor at the University of Dayton, believes that amendments made to the ADA in 2008 make it reasonable for the law to now include pregnant women. The ADA currently covers those with disabilities that have lifting restrictions and experience shortness of breath and fatigue while walking. People considered disabled under the Act have protection from jobs that require repetitive bending, reaching, prolonged siting or standing, extensive walking, driving, or working under high temperatures. High blood pressure and diabetes qualify as disabilities, but not pregnancy-related gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. Currently, if a pregnant woman cannot continue working, she may be forced to use the unpaid leave provided by the Family Medical Leave Act, cutting into the time she would use to recover from childbirth and care for her newborn. 

The courts have repeatedly pushed back on the proposal to consider pregnancy a disability because the symptoms that could make work impossible for some are a normal part of pregnancy. Cox argues: "This reluctance to associate pregnancy with disability, however, has resulted in a legal regime in which many pregnant workers currently have less legal standing to workplace accommodations than other persons with comparable physical limitations." If pregnancy were covered by ADA, employers would be required to provided "reasonable accommodations" that would allow a pregnant woman (even a potential hire) to work. 

Do you think pregnancy should be covered under ADA?

The ADA: Your Employment Rights as an Individual With a Disability [EEOC]
Disability law should cover pregnant workers [CNN]
Facts About Pregnancy Discrimination [EEOC]
Pregnancy Discrimination Information [PregnancyWeekly]
Is Pregnancy a Disability? [UDayton]