I sometimes joke in my training sessions that managers would be wise to say nothing when it comes to pregnancy other than telling an expectant mom “you’re glowing.” Certainly, negative comments about an employee’s pregnancy are a no-no. But what about talking to pregnant employees about their ability, or lack thereof, to complete their job duties? It can be a tricky course to navigate.
To start with, what are the laws at play? The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which is part of Title VII. Maybe the FMLA. And in light of the ADA Amendments Act, that law as well. While the courts are just starting to sort out how the ADAAA plays out, it’s safe to assume it applies to physical impairments caused by the (thankfully) temporary condition of pregnancy. The EEOC definitely thinks so. It has identified pregnancy-related accommodations as one of its top priorities.
OK, so the lay of the land is that employers need to accommodate pregnancy-related disabilities. How best to do that? As with all disabilities under the ADA, it starts with the interactive process. A pregnant employee who wants an accommodation generally has to ask for one. Once she does, the employer should participate in a dialogue to find an accommodation that works for her while still ensuring she can perform the essential functions of the job. Some typical examples of successful pregnancy-related accommodations include: lifting aids, reserved parking, periodic rest breaks, and allowing for periodic sitting in jobs that require a lot of standing.
Train managers to spot accommodation issues. Depending on the organization, it might be appropriate for managers to go ahead and make accommodations where it is easy to do so. Or, a centralized decision-making process might be more appropriate (i.e., HR). The key is to make managers aware that pregnant employees may be entitled to accommodations. So they should not be making flat out denials of requests for accommodations.