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Supreme Court case focuses on employee rights of pregnant women

Employment is a central component of people's lives and ability to provide for themselves and their families. For this reason, federal and state governments have passed various laws intending to protect a wide range of employee rights. Some examples include laws protecting against wrongful termination or employer retaliation. Other laws focus on preventing or providing legal remedies for illegal workplace discrimination. One of the groups that continues to struggle for equal treatment and adequate rights in the workplace is pregnant women, as demonstrated by a recent Supreme Court case.

In 2006, a UPS driver became pregnant and provided her employer with a letter from her doctor recommending that she avoid lifting heavy packages. UPS did not agree to give the female driver light-duty work temporarily while she was pregnant, however. A lawsuit resulted that focused on the employer's obligations to accommodate light-duty work requests in such situations under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Although the company asserted that it only provided light-duty work options for specific groups of employees-those injured on the job, those with a condition covered by the ADA, or those who had lost the federal certificate needed to drive commercial vehicles-the attorney for UPS was unable to provide an example of a non-pregnant employee who had requested, but was denied, light-duty work when questioned by Justice Ginsburg. The Supreme Court should issue a decision in the case by June.

Discrimination in the workplace based on pregnancy is only one type of possible discrimination. Other common bases of discrimination include age, gender, disability, race, national origin, or religion. In addition, many employees find their rights being violated or suffer discrimination when requesting medical leave or maternity or paternity leave. Many other employees are denied their pay or overtime.

Employees have a wide range of rights while in the workplace that aim to protect them from harassment, hostility, discrimination, and not receiving the pay to which they are entitled. The first step in protecting employee rights is understanding what those rights are. Rights are described and defined in state and federal laws, as well as other documents, such as agreements or contracts with the employer or an employee handbook. When employees feel that their rights have been violation, they should not hesitate to take action to protect those rights.

Source:, "Supreme Court hears pregnancy discrimination case," Mark Sherman, Dec. 3, 2014

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