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What rights govern pregnant workers?

Minnesota employers may face litigation if they violate an employee's legal rights or discriminate against certain workers. As one example of these employment disputes, Minnesota and federal laws protect the rights of pregnant workers.

In 2014, Minnesota passed the Women's Economic Security Act which requires employers who employ more than 21 workers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant and nursing workers. Employers must provide these reasonable accommodations which include seating, food and water. Restrictions are also placed on heavy lifting. If an employer cannot provide these accommodations, position transfers should be available to pregnant workers.

This law also requires businesses to provide equal treatment, such as payment, to pregnant women and mothers in accordance with the Minnesota Human Rights Act. Workplace protections are strengthened for nursing mothers to express breast milk during unpaid break periods.

The U.S. Supreme Court addressed the protections provided by federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act earlier this year when it addressed a workers claim that UPS could not refuse a pregnant driver's request to waive its 70-pound lifting requirement for drivers. Under that law, the provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banning sex discrimination apply to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions for employment-related purposes.

The Court ruled that an aggrieved worker makes a showing of discrimination when she shows that she belongs to a protected class such as pregnant workers, that she sought an accommodation relating to that class, that the employer did not accommodate her and that the employer nonetheless accommodated other workers who were not pregnant and could not perform the work.

Employers may defend these claims by relying on legitimate and nondiscriminatory reasons which do not include the expense or inconvenience of providing the accommodation. An aggrieved worker can overcome this defense, however, by showing that the employer's policies impose a substantial burden and that the employer's reasons denying the accommodation do not sufficiently overcome this burden. The Court ordered that the case be returned to a federal appellate court to rule on whether UPS provided different treatment to workers who nonpregnant employees who made similar accommodation requests.

Minnesota businesses should seek prompt legal advice to help avoid business disputes and other litigation over rights possessed by workers. Legal representation can also protect employers if litigation occurs.

Source: U.S. Supreme Court, Young v. United Parcel Service, __U.S.__ (No. 12-1226, March 25, 2015) and Women's Economic Security Act, "Summary of Act," Assessed April 6, 2015

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