School districts have a higher proportion of female employees than many other industries, which means districts have many staff each year who get pregnant and take leave for childbirth, recovery from childbirth, and baby bonding.
While this can present staffing challenges in a normal year, the pandemic has exacerbated the challenges districts face, because the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has listed pregnancy as a condition that might be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. So, while it’s common for pregnant employees to begin an extended leave—typically Family Medical Leave (FML)—at the time of childbirth for a period of up to 12 weeks, doctors are now recommending that pregnant women take extra precautions throughout their pregnancy to help reduce their risk of getting COVID-19.
The CDC has listed pregnancy as an underlying medical condition that might put people at an increased risk for severe illness, and data shared by the CDC points to an increased likelihood of hospitalization and intensive care unit (ICU) admission.
The heightened risk for pregnant women likely will result in more pregnant employees requesting accommodations that will keep them in lower risk environments during their pregnancy. Districts have shared that pregnant year-round staff currently are providing doctor’s notes indicating a request to work for home or stay distanced from other employees.
Pregnancy alone is not an impairment under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but pregnant workers may request accommodations under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which requires employers to make job-related modifications for pregnant employees. Districts should also remember that pregnancy-related medical conditions may be a disability under the ADA necessitating accommodation, even if pregnancy itself is not.
Like any other medical condition, an employer should not assume that every pregnant employee needs special considerations. Supervisors should be reminded to work with HR to respond to employee requests and not impose restrictions or special considerations on pregnant employees before a request is received.
Districts likely can provide telework options for office-based employees who can complete their jobs effectively from home, which would satisfy accommodation requirements under the PDA and ADA, if needed. However, accommodating pregnant staff whose jobs are not conducive to working from home presents a challenge.
Pregnant employees who cannot telework should be treated similarly to other staff with a temporary medical condition who request an accommodation. For staff who cannot work from home or where a work-from-home assignment is not available, the district may consider offering other safety precautions, such as additional personal protective equipment or additional space from coworkers.
When the employer and employee cannot agree on accommodations offered, the employee may be eligible for leave under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), if advised to quarantine by a healthcare provider, and FML. Keep in mind that using FML before childbirth will reduce the amount of leave available for recovery from childbirth and baby bonding.
Employers also may get requests from spouses of pregnant women to limit interaction with other people. Employers have no obligation to provide accommodations to an employee living with an individual at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Employers are doing their best to protect employees and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 in the workplace, including for pregnant employees and other employees at heightened risk. HR staff should remember to provide accommodations to pregnant employees in the same fashion they would provide accommodations to other staff with a temporary medical condition.
Amy Campbell is director at TASB HR Services. Send Amy an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay up to date with all the latest HR news and trends by joining the HRX mailing list!