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Is Pregnancy A Disability That Should Be Covered By The Americans With Disabilities Act?

Under current law, pregnancy is not considered a disability under the ADA. However, Dayton Law Professor, Jeanette Cox, argues that it should:

The ADA doesn’t recognize pregnancy as a disability, leaving pregnant women physically and financially vulnerable on the job, concluded Cox, who studies employment discrimination. She found that pregnant women are at risk for losing their jobs when “reasonable adjustments” aren’t made, such as retail workers fired for drinking water at work or pregnant police officers forced to perform rigorous assignments (while injured officers were given lighter duty).

Cox argues that the ADA currently covers people with “minor temporary physical limitations comparable to pregnancy’s physical effects.” Under current ADA protections, disabled workers may forgo tasks involving heavy lifting, repetitive bending, reaching, prolonged sitting or standing or working under high-temperature conditions. Not so for pregnant women.

The women most affected are low-income workers who are more likely to work in physically demanding jobs than higher-paid desk jockeys, Cox found. Lower-income workers often face the dilemma of continuing to work in high-risk jobs or leaving work altogether, forgoing income.

At this point, Cox’ argument is merely academic. Extending the ADA’s protections would involve significant legal and political hurdles, and business groups would probably oppose such measures as costly, burdensome and over-reaching. In addition, some women may object to pregnancy being classified as a disability because it may signal to employers that they are less fit to work. (There are some six million pregnancies a year in the U.S., according to the American Pregnancy Association.)

Courts, meanwhile, have reasoned that the ADA does not require employers to accommodate pregnant employees because judges have considered “all of these symptoms, at some degree of severity … part and parcel of a normal pregnancy,” Cox wrote.


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