September 3, 2020
Employees who are pregnant may find themselves facing new barriers in the workplace. For example, they might have a medical condition related to pregnancy that requires a change at work so they can continue to do their job.
So is pregnancy considered a disability at work under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? It’s a common question, and one that’s not so easy to answer.
Temporary conditions related to pregnancy in the workplace
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the agency responsible for enforcing the ADA. The EEOC states that pregnancy itself is not a disability.
However, the EEOC also says that “impairments resulting from pregnancy” may be considered disabilities, even if they’re temporary.
There’s no official list of these impairments. In fact, there’s no official list of disabilities that are covered by the ADA. But the EEOC provides a few examples of pregnancy-related conditions that it considers “likely to be disabilities”:
- Pregnancy-related carpal tunnel syndrome
- Gestational diabetes
- Pregnancy-related sciatica
These are just examples. Other pregnancy-related conditions have also been considered disabilities for the purposes of the ADA.
The ADA and pregnancy-related accommodations
According to the EEOC, employers must provide reasonable workplace accommodations for workers with disabilities. That includes temporary disabilities related to pregnancy.
A workplace accommodation is a change at work that breaks down a barrier so an employee can continue to do their job. The EEOC provides a few examples of potential accommodations for pregnancy-related disabilities. Some of them are:
- Allowing remote work
- Modifying a work schedule
- Temporarily reassigning a worker to light duty
- Providing a stool so a worker can sit when they’d normally stand
The EEOC notes that employers must treat employees with temporary, pregnancy-related disabilities the same as they treat any other temporarily disabled employee. For example, if an employer permits a worker with a different type of temporary disability (e.g., recovery from surgery) to change their work duties, they must permit a worker with a pregnancy-related temporary disability to do the same.
But not every pregnant employee will have a temporary disability related to pregnancy. And some that do may not require workplace accommodations.
The Job Accommodation Network provides guidance on reasonable workplace accommodations, including for pregnancy-related disabilities.
The ADA and pregnancy-related discrimination
It’s important to know that the ADA also protects workers from discrimination that happens because an employer thinks they have a disability.
In addition, it places limitations on the kinds of disability-related questions an employer can ask an employee. That is true regardless of whether the disability is pregnancy-related.
But the ADA is not the only law that protects workers who are pregnant.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is a federal law that protects workers from pregnancy-based discrimination. That includes discrimination based on current, past, or potential pregnancy. A worker does not need to have a pregnancy-related disability to be protected by the PDA.
Other laws, like the Family and Medical Leave Act and state and local laws, may also come into play.
Want more information on pregnancy rights at work?
Here are some places to find more information about pregnancy, disability, and workplace accommodations: