Does federal law require employers to provide leave from work to a woman recovering from a c-section?

Pregnancy accommodations continue to trip up even the most seasoned HR professionals. Let’s see how you would handle this scenario.

ABC Company has a pregnant employee. She requests a 30-day leave of absence for childbirth, which ABC grants. After the employee delivers the baby by caesarean section, which requires abdominal surgery, the employee’s doctor indicated she needed eight weeks to recover before returning to work. Human Resources, however, tells the employee her position cannot be held open beyond 30 days, and her employment is terminated.

Is this pregnancy discrimination?

What do you think?

Based on these facts alone, probably not.

But, here’s what I’d want to know: how much leave had the employer granted for reasons unrelated to pregnancy to non-pregnant employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work?

According to an EEOC press release, that appears to be the key factor that motivated a TX-based company to settle with the EEOC for nearly $150K on facts like these.

Here’s more from the press release:

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy in the workplace. In this case, the EEOC sought back pay, plus compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief, including an order barring similar violations in the future.

“It is important that employers understand that pregnant employees must be given the same benefits as non-pregnant employees,” said Meaghan Kuelbs, senior trial attorney in the EEOC’s Dallas District Office. “As a result of this lawsuit, [the company] now has a policy that will ensure equal treatment of pregnant employees who require leave related to their pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition.”

Now I have a few takeaways for you.

First, the duty to accommodate under the PDA is different than under the ADA…for now. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would align the accommodation processes under the two statutes and the PWFA just passed in the House. The Senate is expected to approve it too. President Biden will sign it.

Second, even without a new federal law, many states and localities raise the bar for employers to accommodate pregnant employees. So, don’t forget to follow those rules too.

Third, speaking of forgetting, I’ve seen way too many employee handbooks that are silent about pregnancy accommodations altogether or break time for nursing mothers. If you’re one of those employers, it’s well past time for a handbook update.

“Doing What’s Right – Not Just What’s Legal”
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