Is Pregnancy a Disability?

February 11, 2016

Although pregnancy is not defined as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (PWDCRA), a pregnant employee may suffer from complications that render her disabled or handicapped within the meaning of those statutes. Once a pregnant employee receives medical certification that she is disabled from working, she is likely protected under disability laws.

Most courts addressing the issue have held that an employer must provide a disabled pregnant employee with at least the same benefits that it provides to other disabled employees. The pregnant employee must have the same right to take a disability leave, the same length of leave, the same benefits while on leave, and the same rights to reinstatement as other disabled employees. By the same token, the employee generally cannot be forced to take leave merely because she is pregnant.

Even when other circumstances may warrant an involuntary leave, employers should carefully review and assess the overall circumstances. In 2014, the EEOC (which had previously agreed with the position that pregnancy would generally not be a disability) issued guidance providing that an employer might be required to provide accommodation to a pregnant employee. In 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Young v. UPS, in which it set forth a new standard for liability under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). Specifically, a pregnancy discrimination plaintiff can make a prima facie disparate treatment case by showing that:

  1. she was pregnant;
  2. she requested an accommodation and was denied; and
  3. the requested accommodation had been made available to some non-pregnant employees.

Excerpted from the Michigan Chamber’s Employment Law Handbook: Employer & Employee Protections authored by attorneys from the Miller Canfield law firm.