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My wife is an elementary school teacher and is 30 weeks pregnant. Today, her school district has a yearly 'field day' in which students do outside activities. Today, the temperature is supposed to be around 90°F (32°C). She has been told she must be working it and was given a very tough schedule (other teachers volunteered to swap schedules with her but for some reason the principal said no). The principal also doesn't seem to be offering any other sort of leniency for her.

To me this seems to be very unsafe conditions for a pregnant woman in her 3rd trimester. I advised my wife to go inside immediately if she begins feeling unwell but to also email HR the reason she decided to go inside.

In this situation, what should she do? I can't see how she could be forced outside for this but maybe I'm wrong. My first concern is for my wife and our unborn child.

NOTE: It is definitely too late for a doctor's note as this is today. She's already been there for over an hour before this post was made. We didn't predict both the temperature being so high as well as the principal being so unreasonable.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland May 29 '18 at 21:29
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    Any idea of what sort of work this is, and how it would differ from a pregnant woman doing any sort of work in a hot country such as Thailand, India.. ? – bye May 30 '18 at 8:32
  • What country? Many have laws regarding safe working environments which cover temperature. – DrMcCleod Jun 3 '18 at 11:38

10 Answers 10

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In this situation, what should she do?

For the immediate situation, she should protect herself and the baby by telling the principal she is not feeling well, and is taking a sick day. (cough, cough, hack, hack)

For the future, I would get a quick note from her doctor outlining the activities and work conditions that are safe for her and the baby.

I would be amazed if being outside in high heat would be permissible by her doctor. I would be more amazed if the principal did not abide by the conditions outlined by her physician.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Snow May 31 '18 at 5:58
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    I think faking a illness may backfire. You lose your credability unless you can get a doctor's note immediately. If the principal made her work out of malice, nothing is stopping him from falsifiying her leaving early on some illness. – Dan May 31 '18 at 18:04
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    @Dan your right. And thankfully the teachers have a union, although in this case it simply should not be necessary. The principal in question is a jerk. – Mister Positive May 31 '18 at 18:06
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As it seems (too?) late for a sick leave, day off or doctor's note, because she went to work and someone was neither nice nor reasonable, I think it's time to "reverse the trend".

  • They want you to be there on duty? -> you show up.

  • They want you to stay outside? -> you stay outside.

  • They want you to work? -> you work... just for a couple of minutes!

Then you call someone (principal?), tell them you don't feel good, need to see a doctor, call any doctor / emergency and have them give you a note. Right now.

This way, they can't say you didn't want to do it, because (at least, apparently), you tried (1).

This is an emergency, treat it as one.


(1) side note (only personal thoughts, I might be wrong, but...): as you mentioned that "she was given a very tough schedule (other teachers volunteered to swap her scheduled but for some reason the principal said no), I would say that this person, knowing her pregnancy, is deliberately giving her hard time. Which is not only bad, but stupid and dangerous.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jun 2 '18 at 4:22
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You mentioned this is the United States. You have rights as a pregnant women, including not be required to work unsafe or unreasonable tasks.

I am assuming she is a public school teacher and not a private one. All states in the US have teachers unions and should have a grievance board. The fact that the principal did not agree to a schedule change when others offered it is a problem. I would report this to the superintendent of schools as a formal complaint. Include your union representative.

If your wife is non-union or the school is private, you may have less options that would protect her from retribution. It seems she may want to reconsider returning to this school in the fall if this is the case.

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    You have rights as a person, including not being required to work unsafe or reasonable tasks. This is true whether you're pregnant or not. I'm a man and will never be pregnant, but I also can refuse to do tasks that are bad for my health. It's simply that what makes something unsafe or unreasonable change slightly when you become pregnant, just as they change with many other medical or personal conditions. – corsiKa May 29 '18 at 15:59
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    @V2Blast No, pregnancy IS NOT covered under the ADA. There IS a Pregnancy Discrimination Act, but being pregnant is NOT a disability, and the law may be different around what, if any, accommodations must be made. – Andy May 29 '18 at 23:14
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    I would give this answer a +1 if it weren't for the last paragraph. Federal laws protect you without any regard to whether or not you're a member of a union. That paragraph just seems more like propaganda to keep people paying unnecessary union dues. – reirab May 30 '18 at 20:43
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    @reirab That is only if the pregnancy causes some kind of disability, it does not apply to pregnancy in general. – Andy May 30 '18 at 21:00
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    @reirab Union members very often DO have much better protections than non-union workers. Your apparent dislike for the institution of unions is irrelevant, they can and do negotiate contracts which provide FAR SUPERIOR protections to those available under Federal law. Dislike it if you want, but don't pretend it's not true. – barbecue Jun 1 '18 at 17:09
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You have many good answers but I have something new.

To me the principal is acting unreasonable.

Most teachers are in a union. According to Google search there is a Cleveland union. The union rep should have contact with administrators. The rep can explain this is not a good situation for the district if anything happens to the mother or child. Give cooler heads a chance to prevail.

According to Pregnancy Discrimination Act they must provide light duty. Seems like stay inside would be reasonable light duty. The union probably has a a lawyer that could speak to this.

I was going to mention you should have checked the forecast but it does look like the spike hit kind of fast.

  • To me the principal is acting unreasonable -- Definitely. Also a your right about the teachers union part too. – Mister Positive May 30 '18 at 15:35
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This answer comes from the perspective of a manager with experience of at least 30 direct reports and up to 250 indirect reports dealing with ADA, PDA and FMLA issues almost on a weekly basis. It is meant to address not only the OP but the many numerous incorrect interpretations of employment law/policies posted here.

Note: Do not construe this answer as what my personal thoughts are on this, but rather a pragmatic analysis of the employee's position as it relates to the question.

In this situation, what should she do? I can't see how she could be forced outside for this but maybe I'm wrong. My first concern is for my wife and our unborn child.

There's nothing she can do.

Why? Let's have a look.....

ADA doesn't cover pregnancies

This one is a simple case; the ADA doesn't consider pregnancy a disability or a substantial impairment. The definition of a disability can be found in Title 42, Chapter 126, § 12102 of the US Code.

PDA has to do with discrimination as it relates to employment

The Pregnancy Disability Act basically adds pregnancy and pregnancy related medical conditions to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Basically you cannot treat pregnant women any differently you would anyone else, just as you cannot treat people of different races or religions any differently. A simple, but succinct way to look at this is "What you offer to one, you offer to all."

FMLA is related to leave

It's the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The FMLA entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave.

Pregnancy IS covered here. However, it has to do with leave, not accommodations. It gives you up to 12 weeks of guaranteed, non-contiguous leave (day-to-day as needed), unpaid leave to deal with pregnancy.

In other words, under FMLA, you can take a day (unpaid) as needed anytime you are pregnant provided you have submitted the notice to your employer without loss of your employment or benefits. FMLA doesn't cover job modification.

It's also important to note that *An employee on FMLA leave is not protected from actions that would have affected him or her if the employee was not on FMLA leave.

Third Trimester is NOT an impairment

Medically speaking, there's no evidence that a pregnant woman is anyhow impaired, impeded or unable to perform their job functions.

Generally speaking, there's no medical reason for not being able to do normal activities including standing, walking, and being outside. The symptoms associated with pregnancy are treated with over-the-counter remedies including, but not limited to acetaminophen, extra water for hydration, and sunscreen.

Workplace Accommodations

Under a number of laws, employers are required to make reasonable accommodations to the employee; obviously, going inside and switching out positions with another staff member appears to be a zero-cost accommodation.

However, while an employer is barred from asking why an employee needs an accommodation, and employee cannot merely state they need one and expect it to be granted. A "doctors note" will only describe the accommodation, not the medical condition that caused it.

OSHA classifies this as "Lower Risk Level"

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The Occupational Safety and Health Administration classifies this in a lower risk category and advises caution. They even provide an action plan for this and each of the stages.

I'm not saying it's impossible for a pregnant woman to become ill working in 90° weather, I'm saying that making the argument that she needs an accommodation because she might get ill is speculation. In other words, this is considered low risk and to grant an accommodation will require documentation (i.e. a doctors note).

TL; DR: Summary

  • There's no legal requirement to make a workplace accommodation for pregnancy with the exception that it being documented with a "doctors note" specifying the limitations and/or work restrictions

  • She was entitled to medical leave, but she didn't take it (nor is it known that FMLA paperwork was filed)

  • She may have had sick days accrued, but chose not to use them. In my experience, teachers typically are responsible for arranging their own substitutes (directly or via dept. head). This was also not indicated that it was done.

  • Large employers (school districts fall under this) have rules and procedures often negotiated with the relevant union (teachers, in this case). If an accommodation is required, the employee must supply documentation of the need.

  • (IMO) The principal is adhering to the rules re: asking for an accommodation. Allowing her to change her schedule without proper documentation sets a precedent that anyone can obtain an accommodation by simply asking.

    Now, if someone else makes a request and the principal doesn't grant it, he and the school (district) are in hot water for showing favoritism (which is a violation of union contracts).

Bottom line: You're looking for an exemption where there isn't one and you're looking for an accommodation without going through the proper procedure.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Masked Man Jun 1 '18 at 3:09
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She should not go outside in these conditions even if she feels she can handle the heat. Temperatures over 90 F pose a health risk, so it's wrong for employers to ask pregnant employees to be subject to these risks. It's wrong to take the attitude that people can decide for themselves whether or not they can handle a potentially dangerous physical burden, that they can stop their activities when it becomes too difficult. This would eliminate an important safety margin, all you're left with is the judgment of the employee.

The employee is supposed to be busy doing her job, which is not compatible with constantly monitoring her own physical state. She could slowly slip into a heat stroke and not notice the early signs, this can have a fatal outcome. While one can argue that the risks of this happening is low, this is not how we deal with health and safety issues in society. A low probability of a catastrophic outcome multiplied by a huge number of cases per year where such an outcome can happen, can still yield a fair amount of cases.

The only way to reduce the number of accidents is to work with multiple layers of safety measures that can all be easily enforced and such that people can be held responsible for breaching any one of the safety rules. This won't eliminate all the tragic cases where people drop dead while working, but it goes a long way toward eliminating all the preventable cases.

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    The only risk named that a non pregnant person wouldn't also face is leg swelling. That being said, I'm not down voting because it turns out that temperatures over 90 degrees are considered medically dangerous anyway. I didn't know that. This information is useful with the rest of the information in this thread. – user53651 May 30 '18 at 17:36
  • If temperatures above 90 poses a health risk, I think the children would be more in danger than the adults. With that said, the entire school is at risk especially with heat exhaustion. I'd imagine parents should be concerned of outdoor activity with their school age children. – Dan May 31 '18 at 19:32
  • @Dan: Absolutely. A school requiring children to be outside unnecessarily for any length of time in 90F weather is abusive and should not be tolerated either. – R.. Jun 1 '18 at 22:29
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    It depends. in Arizona a 90 degree day is actually regarded as pleasant. Humidity, or lack of, makes a substantial difference in the danger of a specific temperature. – SafeFastExpressive Jun 1 '18 at 23:57
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family_and_Medical_Leave_Act_of_1993

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is a United States labor law requiring covered employers to provide employees with job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. These include pregnancy, adoption, foster care placement of a child, personal or family illness, or family military leave.[1] The FMLA is administered by the Wage and Hour Division of the United States Department of Labor.

After completing the FMLA paperwork and submitting it. Your wife can take off using FMLA, and your principle can't do a thing about it. Some companies even pay for or allow you to use sick days to get paid for said time.

I don't know if OHSA would be helpful or not, but you could additionally check them out.

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    @dphil This answer is correct. ADA does not work in your wife's case. – scaaahu May 30 '18 at 6:20
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    So now the teacher is on unpaid leave until the end of her pregnancy? – DJohnM May 30 '18 at 14:36
  • @DJohnM Not necessarily. 1. You don't have to take it all at once. In some cases you can just take a single day off. For example, FMLA doctors appt today. 2. Some jobs allow you to use sick leave to get paid for this time. The school I work at does. – cybernard May 30 '18 at 15:34
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Other answers have covered the common measures to take so I will instead cover a different perspective. Prepare for the worst.

If all preemptive efforts fail, then try and make the field day more accommodating for your wife in the ways that you can. Try and equip her with an umbrella to keep the sun and heat off of her. Give her sunblock. Give her a big water bottle with ice to take. Request that one of her coworkers keep an eye on her and help her as much as possible. If you can check in on her too, then think about that.

So start thinking about what can be done if the scenario doesn't go as planned.

Taking legal action or escalating the issue is easy for people on the internet to advise, but there are always consequences. In real life, even when someone (i.e. the principal) is wrong, they hate when an employee goes over their head and/or gets them in trouble. It is a good way to get on the principal's poop list. AKA getting pushed straight to the top of the who to fire next list.

Depending on how much your wife values the job this may not be an issue, but if she does then it will be an issue. I would advise soft-handed strategies in general, and prepare for the worst so that it won't still be the worst if that scenario comes to pass.

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    And depending on how much she values the baby, if this weather is genuinely bad for her health. – Erik May 29 '18 at 20:21
  • Yes. Preparing an exit strategy is good. Maybe have a teacher ready to receive a help text to take over (over the principals head). Warning the principle that if the wife has health complications she will have to leave is worth mentioning. This is not rude, but informing the principal of the reality you are legally allowed and intend to choose. The principal is obviously living in a fantasy, but if he/she tried to stop the wife at this point I think it would be a major crime. Definitely OSHA violation at the least. And you can point out that you made every effort to mitigate the situation. – Tyler S. Loeper May 30 '18 at 12:33
  • @TKK Preparing for a probable eventuality is not short sighted. Pretending that the world is truly fair and there are no consequences for escalating issues, and that things are always just, is short sighted. No matter the case, this is not the husbands decision to make. It is the wife's. He can only support her in the ways that he can. I have provided some in case she does not agree to escalate the issue. – Tyler S. Loeper May 31 '18 at 17:12
  • @TylerS.Loeper I mean that not escalating the issue because of potential consequences would be short sighted. A person's health (not to mention their child's health) is absolutely paramount to anything their boss expects of them. – TKK May 31 '18 at 17:17
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    Another trick - wear a hat, and periodically wet the hat. Cold water is optional, but even tepid water will help cool her down. I also liked to take a frozen water bottle for the afternoon, then it'll still be cold :) Presumably she and all other teachers should be modelling sensible behaviour in hot outdoors weather for the students anyway. – Rosemary7391 Jun 1 '18 at 12:25
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Deal with the situation as best as she can. Yes, 90°F (32°C) is quite hot, but not excessively so. It is a normal temperature for many parts of the world, including more moderate climates. Just being outside in this temperature does not pose an immediate health risk for a pregnant women or her unborn child.

No one – including the principal – will expect a pregnant women to engage in physically demanding activities; but I am reasonably sure there are plenty of other tasks: preparing food, watching over children, etc. Equally, I would expect few people to complain should she take a break if she's discomforted by the temperature.

Of course, if your wife is suffering from the heat to an unreasonable degree then by all means report in sick as per e.g. Mister Positive's answer.

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    'I am not a doctor' then you're done giving medical opinions, especially about pregnancy. 'No one – including the principle – will expect a pregnant women to engage in physically demanding activities' the principal clearly DOES expect her to engage in physically demanding activities, seeing as the OP's wife is already suffering – Meelah May 29 '18 at 14:49
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    @Meelah I don't think you need to be a doctor to observe that 32°C is a normal temperature for many parts of the world. the principal clearly DOES expect her to engage in physically demanding activities, seeing as the OP's wife is already suffering: that is not at all clear from the question to me, the OP even mentions (emphasis mine): "if she begins feeling not well". It is clear (and understandable) that OP is worried about his wife, but not that the wife is actually discomforted. – Martin Tournoij May 29 '18 at 14:58
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    @Daniel Yes but bear in mind that, while 90F/32C is an unusually hot day in the UK that would probably make the national news, it's a pretty normal temperature in many parts of the US, even in places that you wouldn't think of as being "hot". – David Richerby May 29 '18 at 16:56
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    While 32 C is normal for many parts of the World, fully acclimatizing to 32 C for people not used to spending most of the year under such conditions takes more than a year. Fully acclimatizing involves not simply the fast acclimatizing we all experience when we visit a tropical country that only involves sweating more efficiently. That takes just a few days. But the local people have far more blood-vessels in their skin, they can lose a lot more heat without sweating, allowing them to exert themselves a lot more in the heat. Also note that pregnancy makes the heat much more of a problem. – Count Iblis May 29 '18 at 20:10
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    Is the teacher new to the climate? Why would they not have acclimatized already? – Harper May 30 '18 at 15:52
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I advised my wife to go inside immediately if she begins feeling not well

And what, just leave the children unsupervised? The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for medical conditions. Asking several weeks beforehand to be excused from working in high heat has a reasonable chance of being found to be a "reasonable accommodation". Leaving a bunch of children unsupervised and expecting the principal to find a replacement at the last minute, much less so. Asking when her shift has already started is quite late. Even doing something the day before would be significantly better. What sort of duties she felt comfortable performing should have been a conversation she had in her second trimester, if not first. You don't have state tag, but 90 degree heat in late May is not unforeseeable in most parts of the country.

Your wife can insist on a replacement or cancelling the activity, but shouldn't expect there to not be repercussions. What she should do should be based on how much of a risk she perceives, how much that concerns her, and how much she values a good relationship with her employer.

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    If this is anything like the elementary school field days with which I'm familiar, there will be other teachers and probably dozens of parents present, as well, so it's unlikely that she would be leaving all the children entirely unattended. Even if she really is alone with the children, leading them all back inside seems preferable to leaving them to deal with a passed-out, heat-exhausted teacher all on their own. – 1006a May 29 '18 at 19:42
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    Pregnancy in of itself does not fall under the scope of the ADA, unless there is a specific associated medical issue related to the pregnancy - www1.eeoc.gov//eeoc/publications/… - not a lawyer, betting OP of this answer isn't either. Please consult an HR / legal expert in these matters – NKCampbell May 29 '18 at 23:06

protected by Mister Positive May 30 '18 at 15:36

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