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Pregnant workers: know your rights under ADA and FMLA

As readers in Colorado may know, in 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act broadened the Americans with Disabilities Act to include a number of relatively minor and short-term physical disabilities. However, in most of the United States, employers still sometimes try to get away with employment discrimination based on the burdens women must endure while pregnant.

For instance, one pregnant woman was fired from her retail position for consuming water on the job, even though a healthy pregnancy requires women to drink plenty of water.

Another woman who worked as a nursing home director lost her job because she was unable to lift heavy tables during her pregnancy. The work of lifting the tables took up only a small part of her workday -- about five to 10 minutes -- but the woman's employer terminated her employment anyway.

However, the amended Americans with Disabilities Act makes employers responsible for providing proper accommodations for workers who experience "shortness of breath and fatigue when walking distances that most people could walk without experiencing such effects." The law also says that employers must accommodate employees with back injuries requiring a "20-pound lifting restriction that lasts or is expected to last for several months."

Still, courts have so far opted not to include pregnancy under the umbrella of The Americans with Disabilities Act, the reason being that the physical burdens of pregnancy are judged to be too minor and short-term to be categorized as disabilities.

Moreover, many people say the Family and Medical Leave Act also doesn't do enough to help women to continue working while pregnant. In fact, employers can still make a pregnant woman take unpaid leave, even when temporary changes to job requirements would allow her to keep working. By contrast, employees who are eligible under the Americans with Disabilities Act can still collect a paycheck while continuing to work with reasonable changes to job requirements.

Pregnant women and others in Colorado who believe they have been subject to employment discrimination should explore all of their legal options. If an employer has discriminated against a worker because she is pregnant, she should be aware of what she can do to ensure that her rights as a worker are fully protected in accordance with Colorado and federal laws.

Source: "Disability law should cover pregnant women," Jeanette Cox, Jan. 10, 2012

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