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  • trouble in rhode island

    my wife is 2 months pregnant, and works on a horse farm. her normal duties include mucking and cleaning out horse stalls, lifting and moving semi heavy objects such as large bails of hay, 50lb bundles of shavings, buckets full of feed and water. she also has to groom hoses, excersies them, and put them out in the fields, and do various landscaping duties such as mowing grass, pruning trees, ect. her doctor gave her a note stating that she was pregnant(for her employer) and that she was not to lift anything over 30lbs, which limits alot of the work she can do. her employer told her after reviewing the note that it was unacceptable and she was not able to do what was required of her in her job. her employer than made a detailed list of the duties she was expected to do(including lifting things by herself up to 75lbs) and had to leave work and could not return until her OBGYN signed the paper stating that she could do these things(which no doctor in his right mind will sign), and if he won't clear her to do this lifting than she is out of a job. she asked her boss if it would just be easier to lay her off because she knows the doctor won't sign the paper allowing her to lift 75lbs being pregnant. her boss agreeing with her saying that he also knows the doctor won't sign the paper, said that he won't lay her off because " it's not like your a bad employee, we're just not getting as much done because you are making slack that others are having to pick up". there are 4 full time employees and one part time employee working on the farm. her bosses are saying that they are not trying to force her out of her job, but that's what it looks like to us and we were wondering what the law/her rights as a pregnant woman are and if they can fire her or if they would have to lay her off. do we need a lawyer?

  • #2
    The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act applies to employers with 15 or more employees. In view of the fact that the horse farm only employes 4 or 5 employees, it is not subject to the Act. Even if it were, the Act would requires that pregnancy be treated the same as any other disability. If the employer also couldn't accommodate a male employee who couldn't lift heavy amount because of a back injury, then it would not be discriminating against pregnant women.
    I am not able to respond to private messages. Thanks!

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    • #3
      Marketeer is exactly right. Even if this employer was sizeable enough to be subject to federal employment laws, their obligation is to treat your wife in the same manner they would as any other employee with temporary medical restrictions.

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      • #4
        Even if the federal statute doesn't apply due to the size of the employer, a similar state statute might apply.

        The requirements listed by the employer have to be real job duties that apply to everyone. As many people know, women used to be kept out of some jobs by ridiculous lifting requirements that had nothing to do with the actual job requirements. If this employer's list is not based on the realities of the job, then it is exactly the same thing.

        Even if no statute applies, your wife may be able to sue for wrongful discharge if she is fired -- it violates the public policy of most states to fire a pregnant woman because she is pregnant.

        Cynthia
        www.worklifelaw.org

        *Note: the foregoing is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
        Cynthia Calvert, WorkLife Law

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        • #5
          I don't believe that Rhode Island has any such state law. It does have a temporary disability insurance program that may apply and provide income replacement for the poster's wife. However, the OP noted that she already cannot perform all the requirements of the job with a 30-pound lifting restriction. It would seem that being able to lift heavy objects is a fundamental job requirement here and not one that the employer is making up to get rid of this woman. While it goes against public policy to fire someone simply because she's pregnant, I'm not sure that there is any law that requires this small horse farm to essentially create a new job for this woman. That's the downside of working for a very small employer.
          I am not able to respond to private messages. Thanks!

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          • #6
            Actually, I just looked it up and RI does have such a law. The Rhode Island Fair Employment Practices Act, RI Gen. Laws 28-5-1 et seq., prohibits discrimination based on sex, including pregnancy, by any employer with 4 or more employees.

            I hear what you're saying about one being able to do one's job, but it does seem peculiar that her job requires her to lift 50 lb bales but the employer is requiring her to be able to lift 75 lbs, doesn't it?

            Moreover, we don't have enough facts from the employee to know if "light duty" is available for other employees with temporary physical ailments, in which case it should also be available to her.

            What this employer should keep in mind is that pregnancy lasts only a few months out of a career that can stretch years or decades. Retaining a good employee is less expensive and better for business than having to find, hire, and train replacements. If this employer could actively manage workloads of his/her employees so that for this short period of time this employee didn't have to lift anything over 30 lbs, he/she would be acting to the benefit of all involved. Unfortunately, he/she may be unwilling to do that based on stereotypical assumptions of how female employees will or should behave once they become mothers. Some employers try to fire new mothers because they think they won't work as hard on the job any more. Other employers try to fire new mothers because they think they should stay home with their babies. Regardless of the stereotype at issue, taking personnel actions based on stereotypes is wrong and illegal.

            Okay, I've put away my soapbox. The bottom line for this employee is that she should probably consult with an attorney. The case is a close one, but it depends on the facts -- and those have to be better developed.

            Cynthia

            *Note: the foregoing is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
            Cynthia Calvert, WorkLife Law

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