Maryland General Assembly Mandates “Light Duty” for Pregnant Disabled Women

Pregnant EmployeesEarlier this month, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed legislation providing that, effective October 1, 2013, Maryland employers with 15 or more employees must provide their pregnant employees with light duty or similar accommodations that go beyond the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”).

The law was passed in reaction to Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., where the court held that employers are not required, under either the ADA or PDA, to provide pregnant employees with light duty assignments as long as the employer treats them equally with non-pregnant employees. There, the court held that UPS’s refusal to provide a light duty assignment for a pregnant delivery truck driver, whose doctor indicated she could not lift more than 20 pounds for the first 20 weeks of her pregnancy, and 10 pounds thereafter, was not discriminatory because it treated both pregnant and non-pregnant employees alike.

Maryland’s “Reasonable Accommodations for Disabilities Due to Pregnancy Act” mandates that employers provide pregnant employees who are temporarily disabled with light duty assignments or transfers to less strenuous jobs, among other accommodations, even if these accommodations would remove the essential functions of the employee’s position, unless it would pose an undue hardship to the employer to have to do so.

It requires the employer to “explore” the following accommodations for the pregnant employee:

  • changing her job duties;
  • changing her work hours;
  • relocating her work area;
  • providing mechanical or electrical aids;
  • transferring her to a less strenuous or hazardous position; or
  • providing leave.

If an employee requests a transfer to a less strenuous job during the pregnancy, an employer must grant the request if: (1) it would do so for any other temporarily disabled employee; or (2) the woman’s health care provider so advises, and the employer can do so without creating a new job or displacing employees. In making reasonable accommodations, however, employers are not required to create additional employment that it would not otherwise have created, discharge any employee, transfer an employee with more seniority than the employee requesting the reasonable accommodation, or promote any employee who is not qualified to perform the job.

The act also requires that employers post a notice “in a conspicuous location” and include a section in employee handbooks that explains a pregnant employee’s right to a reasonable accommodation under the new law.

While the law does not go into effect for several months, employers who are likely to be covered by its provisions should immediately start considering changes to employee handbooks and how to comply with the statute’s posting requirements.

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