The scenario: Even though a company allowed employees injured on the job to be transferred to light-duty work with full pay, it refused to move pregnant employees to light-duty assignments. Instead, women were expected to work as long as they could and then take unpaid maternity leave.
A pregnant staffer who had a physically demanding job begged her boss to transfer her to light duty for the duration of her pregnancy, but the manager refused, claiming that she wanted “favoritism.”
So the female crew member continued to work until she started bleeding and the baby’s heartbeat began to drop. Concerned about the health of her baby, the woman quit the job and then contacted the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Legal challenge: The EEOC sued the employer for pregnancy discrimination, arguing that its policy of refusing light- duty transfers for pregnant workers was discriminatory.
The employer said its light-duty program had the singular intent of reducing workers’ comp expenses.
The ruling: The company won. The court said the employer offered a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for its policy: the need to cut workers’ comp costs. Because the justification provided by the company didn’t apply to pregnant employees who weren’t eligible for comp, the policy wasn’t discriminatory.
The skinny: If a woman in a physically demanding job requests light- duty work, talk to your HR manager before deciding whether to transfer her. Your employer might have a policy that forbids pregnant staffers from moving into light-duty assignments because it wants to reduce workers’ comp costs, as was the case here.
Cite: EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores East, U.S. Court of Appeals 7, No. 21-1690, 8/16/22.
(From the Sept. 23, 2022, issue of HR Managers Legal Alert for Supervisors. To start your no-obligation trial subscription to the publication right now, please click here.)