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Employment Law: Employers Now Required To Accommodate Pregnancy-Related Disabilities

In May 2013, Governor Martin O’Malley signed a law passed by the Maryland Legislature which requires employers with at least 15 employees to provide reasonable accommodations for employees diagnosed with a disability caused or contributed to by pregnancy. 

Maryland’s employment discrimination statute has defined a “disability” to include a: (1) physical disability or infirmity or mental impairment or deficiency; and (2) being perceived or having a record as having such an impairment.

The new law specifies that reasonable accommodations may include measures, such as providing leave or changing an employee’s hours, work location, or job duties or assignment, which do not impose an “undue hardship” on the employer. 

An employer may be required to transfer an employee temporarily to a less strenuous or hazardous position for the duration of a disability IF: (1) the employer has a policy, practice, or collective bargaining agreement which requires the transfer of temporarily disabled employees; or (2) the employee’s healthcare provider advises that a transfer is needed and the employer determines that it can be provided without creating additional employment, discharging another employee, transferring a more senior employee; or promoting an unqualified employee.

An employer may require the employee to provide certification from her healthcare provider which states the date the accommodation became medically advisable, the probable duration, and an explanation of the medical advisability.  The law requires employers to post notices informing employees of their legal rights and prohibits denying or interfering with those rights.  The law does not expressly provide a remedy for such unlawful conduct, but employees will be able to use the remedies provided by the Maryland Human Relations Act, which include filing a lawsuit and/or a discrimination charge with the Maryland Human Relations Commission.

From a practical standpoint, this law does not increase or otherwise affect employers’ legal obligations under existing state and federal statutes, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Indeed, opponents of the law repeatedly and correctly pointed out to the legislature that the pending bill was unnecessary for that reason.  Despite that fact, some politicians felt the need to enact this superfluous and redundant legislation in order to satisfy certain constituents. 

 As a consequence, employers should continue to deal with pregnant employees’ accommodation requests in the same manner, with the only additional requirement that the notices required by the Maryland law should be posted in the workplace. 

For more information please contact Mike Smith at 410-583-2400 or smith@bowie-jensen.com

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