Be careful what you wish for

That appears to be the message regarding doctors’ notes requesting accommodation for pregnant women. A group of doctors and an attorney note in a commentary in the medical journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, that premature or imprecise doctors’ notes asking for accommodation by an employer can have negative consequences, including unpaid leave and termination.

While most doctors believe they are doing their patient a service by issuing a strongly worded request for lifting or standing restrictions, they may be helping the employer make the decision to fire the pregnant woman. Despite the protections offered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, many employers will still fire a pregnant woman.

A pregnant woman and her doctor may not understand that any request for accommodation needs to be precisely drafted and specifically tailored to the patients work duties and medical condition.

Too broadly worded, and an employer may demand that the woman immediately begin unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The problem with unpaid FMLA leave is that, one, it is unpaid, and many women cannot afford three months of zero income. Second, a significant portion of the workforce does not work for an employer subject to the FMLA, meaning if they cannot perform their job duties, they could be fired.

They must have worked the requisite number of hours for their employer and that employer must have at least 50 employees at their location in order to even qualify for FMLA leave. Residents of New York and New York City may have broader rights than those granted under the FMLA.

If you do qualify, you should still explain carefully to your doctor specific elements of your job that may require an accommodation and determine when those accommodations are specifically necessary, to avoid overbroad requests.

If such narrowly tailored requests still result in pushback or threats of termination from your employer, you may wish to consult the NYC Commission on Human Rights or an attorney for additional assistance.

Source: nytimes.com, “Doctors’ Notes for Pregnant Employees Can Backfire, Experts Warn,” Catherine Saint Louis, July 8, 2015

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