Maryland has enacted the “Reasonable Accommodations for Disabilities Due to Pregnancy Act,” which becomes effective October 1, 2013. The Act is a game changer for Maryland employers with 15 or more employees.
The Act makes it unlawful for an employer to fail or refuse to make a reasonable accommodation for the known disability of an otherwise qualified employee whose disability is caused or contributed to by pregnancy and does not impose an undue hardship on the employer. Disabilities caused or contributed to by pregnancy or childbirth “are temporary disabilities for all job-related purposes” and “shall be treated as temporary disabilities under any health or temporary disability insurance or sick leave plan available in connection with employment.”
The Act also requires all written and unwritten employment policies and practices be applied to disability due to pregnancy or childbirth on the same terms and conditions as they are applied to other temporary disabilities. As a practical matter, this is already required by the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
More significantly, under the new law, if an employee requests a reasonable accommodation, the employer must explore with the employee all possible means of providing the reasonable accommodation, including:
- Changing the employee’s job duties
- Changing the employee’s work hours
- Relocating the employee’s work area
- Providing mechanical or electrical aids
- Transferring the employee to a less strenuous or less hazardous position; or
- Providing leave.
If an employee requests a transfer to a less strenuous or less hazardous position, the employer must transfer the employee to such position for a period of time up to the duration of the employee’s pregnancy if the employer has a policy, practice or collective bargaining agreement requiring or authorizing such a transfer, or the employee’s health care provider advises the transfer and the employer can provide the reasonable accommodation by transferring the employee without:
- Creating additional employment that the employer would not otherwise have created;
- Discharging any employee;
- Transferring any employee with more seniority than the employee requesting the reasonable accommodation; or
- Promoting any employee who is not qualified to perform the job.
Significantly, the Act permits an employer to require an employee to provide a certification from the employee’s health care provider concerning the medical advisability of a reasonable accommodation to the same extent a certification is required for other temporary disabilities.
Finally, the law requires employers to post in conspicuous places and include in any employee handbook, “information concerning an employee’s right to reasonable accommodations and leave for a disability caused or contributed to by pregnancy.” Thus, covered Maryland employers must update their handbooks to address the new law by October 1, 2013.