Pregnancy and Covid: Reasonable Accommodations in the Workplace

Being pregnant during the pandemic can be a frightening experience, even if you are able to stay at home most of the time. However, more and more people in California are required to report back to the office, and it is natural to be nervous for yourself and your unborn child if you are pregnant and not yet fully vaccinated.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pregnancy is one of many health conditions that can increase the risk of having severe illness due to COVID-19, and it increases the risk of hospitalization, ICU admission, or mechanical ventilation of the pregnant woman. This also raises the chances of complications with delivery, including preterm birth and associated health effects to the child.

It should be expected that pregnant employees would want to seek different work expectations that reduce their risks of COVID-19 exposure.

Reasonable Accommodations Under the Law

Both the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) require employers to provide reasonable accommodations for disabled employees when requested. While pregnancy itself is not a disability, certain pregnancy-related medical conditions do qualify as disabilities under the law. Further, FEHA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees whose pregnancy or related conditions prevent them from performing their usual job duties.

What are possible reasonable accommodations when it comes to COVID-19 exposure? That depends on the nature of the job in question. Below are some examples of reasonable accommodations that might help to protect the health of pregnant employees.

Working from home - One of the most common solutions is for an employer to allow an employee to work remotely whenever possible. Many employers learned that their staff can succeed remotely during the heart of the pandemic, and if possible, they should allow high-risk employees, such as pregnant women, to continue to work from home until the risk subsides.

Workspace relocation - If you are required to go into the office or other location, it might be possible to relocate your primary workspace to minimize your contact with or increase your proximity to others. In addition, you might be allowed to attend meetings virtually instead of joining others in a conference room or centralized location.

Different schedules or shifts - If you normally work when your work environment is the busiest, it might be possible to change your schedule to allow you to work when there is less exposure.

Change in job duties - If you work in consumer-facing positions and regularly interact with customers, you might be able to switch to a back-of-the-house position while pregnant to limit your COVID-19 risks.

To get a reasonable accommodation, you are required to properly request it from your employer. If you qualify, your employer cannot refuse the accommodation unless it can demonstrate that the company would experience undue hardship as a result. If you believe you deserve accommodations at work if you are pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic, but your employer refused, discuss the matter with a California employment law attorney right away.