Employers should take a “pregnant pause” to review their employee leave policies, in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
That case involved Peggy Young, a delivery driver for UPS. UPS requires its drivers to be able to lift up to 70 pounds.
Upon becoming pregnant, Young’s doctor told her that she should not lift more than 20 pounds. Because she could not perform a necessary work requirement, and had previously used all of her family/medical leave, UPS put Young on an unpaid leave.
After giving birth and returning to work, Young sued the company, arguing that UPS’s refusal to accommodate her restrictions amounted to discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
For support, Young pointed to other employees with similar limitations—not caused by pregnancy—who were accommodated.
In response, UPS defended its refusal to accommodate Young by pointing to its employment policies. Basically, a UPS employee was only eligible for accommodation, such as light-duty work, if the employee was injured on the job or had a disability covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act.
On March 25, the Supreme Court held that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires that, if employees with pregnancy-related work limitations are treated differently than employees with similar, but non-pregnancy-related work limitations, the company must be able to prove legitimate reasons for the differences.
Even if the company is able to prove legitimate reasons, those reasons must not be “pretextual,” or simply cover for an activity that would otherwise violate the law.
In Young’s case, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Fourth Circuit to determine whether UPS’s rationale for the different treatment was pretextual.
In light of this decision, employers should review their leave policies.
If the policies provide for accommodation for some employees, but those accommodations are not available to, or different from, the accommodations available to pregnant employees, the employer should consider modifying the policy to provide the same accommodation.
Employers should also ensure that their decision makers all follow the same procedure, so that requests for accommodation are handled consistently.
FOS can help you create and/or maintain an effective leave policy which complies with the new Supreme Court decision.