** Update: Since this blog post, Congress has strengthened the protections for pregnant employees with lifting restrictions. For more information, visit our pregnancy discrimination page to learn about pregnancy accommodations under Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. **
A fairly common fact pattern in Cleveland employment discrimination cases involves a pregnant employee being fired because of a lifting restriction. A few days ago, I posted a ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas-style poem about it, which was picked up by the popular legal website Above the Law. Since I don’t have to rhyme in this blog post, it’s now a little easier to explain in more detail how the law handles pregnancy discrimination cases involving lifting restrictions.
Under the federal and Ohio employment discrimination laws, an employer may not fire, harass, or discriminate against an employee on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or pregnancy-related medical conditions. In particular under federal law, “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes . . . as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e(k) (emphasis added). Ohio law is the same. To put it in non-legalese, employers must generally treat pregnant employees the same as non-pregnant employees who have similar work restrictions due to something other than pregnancy.
As illustrated in the recent Sixth Circuit case Latowski v. Northwoods Nursing Center, lifting restrictions for pregnant employees are a common issue in employment discrimination cases, especially for nurses and other healthcare workers. Whether the employer must grant the lifting restriction depends on whether it would grant a similar restriction for a non-pregnant employee. For example, if the employer has granted light duty to a non-pregnant employee because of a bad back, it would have to grant light duty to a pregnant employee who needed it. On the other hand, if the employer would not accommodate lifting restrictions for non-pregnant employees, then the pregnant employee might be out of luck.
Denying lifting restrictions isn’t the only form of pregnancy discrimination of course. Another typical example involves leaves of absence. While the Family and Medical Leave Act provides many pregnant employees with protected leave, it has its limits, as we have previously written about on this blog. Setting the FMLA aside, if a Cleveland employer grants a medical leave of absence for something besides pregnancy (probably with the exception of leave for work-related injuries), it must grant pregnant employees comparable leave when needed for pregnancy or childbirth. Once again, however, if the employer would not grant leave for non-pregnant employees, it is not required to grant it for a pregnant employee either.
Many pregnant employees want (or more accurately, need) to continue working while pregnant, but have doctor’s restrictions that make them fear for their jobs. If you are pregnant and fear for your job because of a doctor’s restriction, contact a Cleveland attorney who has experience handling pregnancy discrimination cases.