Reasonable vs. unreasonable accommodations for pregnant workers

Employers generally want to comply with employment laws that address employee rights. However, the laws can be confusing and vague, making it difficult to always know what to do.

For instance, you may know that California laws require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers. But where is the line between a reasonable accommodation and an unreasonable one?

What the law says

California laws make it illegal to discriminate against a worker because of pregnancy. Employers cannot fire or refuse to hire someone because of their pregnancy or physical and mental conditions related to their pregnancy.

Employers must also provide the same type of accommodations they would provide to workers with work-related injuries or disabilities. In other words, employers who provide accommodations to some workers must also provide them to pregnant workers.

But even this requirement leaves room for interpretation. For instance, employers are not required to provide every requested accommodation; it must be reasonable.

When is an accommodation unreasonable?

Accommodations are changes or adjustments to a person’s work duties, schedule or environment that make it easier to perform essential job functions. Standard accommodations often involve:

  • Light duty assignments
  • More frequent breaks
  • Allowing them to sit instead of stand
  • Opportunities to work remotely

These adjustments can be relatively easy to implement. They also allow pregnant workers to continue doing their jobs.

However, some accommodations cause an undue hardship on employers or others. Examples include any that:

  • Displace other workers
  • Are excessively expensive to put in place
  • Remove essential job functions
  • Violate workplace policies
  • Require the creation of a new position

Under these circumstances, accommodations can be too disruptive or expensive to put in place.

Walking a fine line

California employers walk a fine line between wanting to fulfill their legal obligations and wanting to avoid overextending themselves and their resources. This leaves room for errors, misjudgments and misconceptions, all of which can have legal and professional consequences of pregnancy discrimination claims.

However, when employers have legal guidance and an understanding of their obligations, they can minimize costly conflicts.