Wal-Mart charged with not accommodating pregnant workers

Dive Brief:

  • Two former Wal-Mart employees charged the retail giant with allegedly refusing to treat pregnant women like other disabled workers, as federal and state laws require, reports Reuters. The workers claim that until 2014, the company’s policy denied pregnant workers the same accommodations as other disabled employees. As many as 50,000 female workers might have been affected by Wal-Mart’s former policy.
  • According to Reuters, Otisha Woolbright, one of the two plaintiffs, said she was fired after being injured carrying a heavy tray on the job and inquiring about the company’s policy toward pregnant workers.
  • Talisa Borders said she was reprimanded for asking coworkers to do heavy lifting for her, forced to go out on unpaid leave and paid $2.00 an hour less when she returned to work. Wal-Mart has denied all charges, says Reuters. The case is Borders v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Dive Insight:

This is not Wal-Mart's first brush with the courts over its policies involving pregnant employees. In 2014, the company changed its internal policies related to such workers after a class action suit was filed in the courts. Subsequent claims were also filed with the EEOC in 2014. The new 2017 case includes claims related to the older policy, but lawyers said they are planning a separate lawsuit about the revised policy.

Federal and state laws require employers to accommodate pregnant employees like other disabled workers and treat it like a temporary disability. It's important that mid-level managers are aware that is the law. Employers also have to be careful that they accommodate the employee in a way that actually benefits the employee and that work isn't restricted in a way that could look like discrimination.

The Supreme Court remanded a pregnancy discrimination case back to the lower courts in 2015, effectively saying that the employer could not place pregnancy in a different class other than disability and that they must treat pregnant workers as they would any worker with a disability or medical condition. 

Supporting a pregnant employee throughout their term and beyond can have solid ROI for a company by improving long-term retention. In turn, more organizations are offering some form of paid parental leave to make up the difference.

Filed Under: HR Management Legal
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