Legal protections at work for pregnant employees in Michigan

Federal and Michigan state law provide protections against job discrimination based on pregnancy.

It is decidedly illegal for a Michigan employer to discriminate against an employee or job applicant based on pregnancy. Federal and state civil rights laws provide the safety net, but the application of these employment discrimination laws as well as the rather strict procedures claimants must follow to enforce them are complex.

Experienced, knowledgeable legal counsel can be extremely important for advice and counsel of a pregnant woman facing discrimination at work, as deadlines and interaction with government agencies and courts are often strictly enforced. Sound legal guidance is needed to understand a woman's rights under the state and federal laws involved and for assistance in weighing the legal options for bringing a claim.

Michigan anti-discrimination law

Michigan's Elliot-Larsen civil rights act, among other things, forbids employment discrimination based on pregnancy. Pregnancy discrimination falls under the category of discrimination based on sex, and includes pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. This law applies to employers with at least one employee.

Under the state anti-discrimination law, a woman who believes that she has been illegally discriminated against at work because of pregnancy may file a complaint with a designated state agency, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, or a lawsuit in state court.

Federal civil rights laws

At the federal level, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act or PDA also makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. The federal pregnancy discrimination ban is also based on the prohibition of discrimination based on sex or gender. However, in contrast to the wider sweep of Michigan state law, the federal ban only applies to larger employers with at least 15 employees.

In some situations, a pregnant woman's medical condition may also be covered by anti-discrimination provisions of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA that may require an employer to provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace to an employee with a disability so long as the accommodation does not create undue hardship on the employer. A pregnant woman's medical condition, and resulting need for a medical leave, may also be covered under the Family Medical Leave Act or FMLA, which may require that the employer allow the employee to take an unpaid medical leave for up to 12 weeks, with the right to return to her position or a substantially similar one.

Unsettled law

Currently a legal debate is raging at the federal level about whether ADA-like reasonable accommodations are legally required to allow pregnant women to continue to work.

This issue will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in December 2014 in Young v. United Parcel Service. In this case, the issue is whether UPS can legally deny a light lifting accommodation to a pregnant employee as recommended by her medical provider when such accommodation is already being given to workers needing the accommodation because of on-the-job injury or pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement.

Just before the Supreme Court agreed to hear Young, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC issued an important guidance document stating that the PDA requires reasonable accommodations to pregnant women like those required for workers with disabilities under the ADA.

The National Law Review has published an interesting article that explains in detail this unusual situation in which a federal agency has decided its interpretation of an important issue pending before the Supreme Court.

Legal guidance

In the meantime, any pregnant woman in Michigan concerned about negative treatment at work or in response to a job application should speak with a skilled employment law attorney as soon as possible about potential rights and remedies.

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