Women today are more likely to work while pregnant according to data collected by the Pew Research Center . Women tend to work longer into their pregnancy and return to work sooner as well.

With this information in mind, it is important for companies and their HR departments to be ready when the time to accommodate a pregnant employee comes about. While pregnancy can be a wonderful time in a woman’s life, it can also present a number of challenges in the workplace.

For example, fatigue, sickness, or pain may impact attendance. Restrictions in lifting, standing, or bending may affect the ability to meet the physical demands of a job. Some women may need to drink and eat more frequently or wear more comfortable clothing that may not adhere to certain policies. Back pain, high blood pressure, dehydration and even depression are other examples of limitations that can result from pregnancy-related complications.

The more knowledge and understanding of these possible limitations will better your HR department and allow the company to avoid any discriminations or retaliations.


There are two federal laws that may require an employer to accommodate a pregnant worker: the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The PDA  is a federal statute that protects pregnant workers and requires covered employers to make job-related modifications for pregnant employees. The PDA forbids employment discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. The law requires employers to treat a pregnant employee who is temporarily unable to perform or is limited in performing, the functions of her job because of pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition in the same manner as it treats other employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.

The ADA  requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, so long as doing so does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. Although pregnancy alone is not a disability under the ADA, many pregnancy-related conditions are disabilities that an employer may have to accommodate under the ADA.

Both is these legislations can also be accompanied by addition laws, depending on the state. Some choose to go above and beyond the requirements of federal law by providing accommodations for as long as the employee needs, for as long as the employer can withstand hardship in the employee’s absence. For example, the state of California considers pregnancy a temporary disability, as well as any illness or injury resulting from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition.As such, an individual is deemed disabled on any day in which, because of her physical or mental condition, she is unable to perform her regular or customary work.

Ways to Accommodate

There are a number of ways employers can accommodate pregnant or nursing workers. HR should be at the forefront of these decisions, working to make adjustments when needed.

An example of this could be if a pregnant employee verbalizes that she’s having trouble, HR should have her discuss her job description with her doctor, focusing on the tasks affecting her pregnancy and accommodations that might help. This way communication is established and modifications can be made based on each woman’s personal need.

More examples of such accommodations include:

  • Allow for longer or more frequent work breaks to use the restroom or move her workstation closer to the restroom if pregnant employee is experiencing nausea and/or vomiting symptoms
  • Reduce or eliminate physical exertion and workplace stress if she is experiencing fatigue
  • Modify policy to allow eating/drinking at workstation/around facility to increase caloric intake and keep hydrated
  • Allow work from home or limit overtime
  • Allow a flexible or reduced work schedule
  • Provide a flexible chair or a foot rest
  • Limit lifting, bending, reaching, pushing, and pulling
  • Modify dress code
  • Allow telephone calls during work hours to healthcare providers and others for needed support

Also consider that employers don’t want managers to overstep by introducing an accommodation when it’s not necessary, which could be perceived as showing bias against the employee’s ability based solely on her pregnancy. However, ignoring someone who is clearly having difficulty performing isn’t advised, either. Find a balance within your HR department. One of the best ways to find this balance is to ask ‘What would the process be if the employee had a back injury or needed adjustments to her work schedule for cancer treatments?” Then, treat pregnancy accommodations the same way. Once the accommodation is implemented, it’s important to monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed.

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Kailey Brennan, VertiSource HR Blogger®

Working while pregnant is much more common than it used to be