Avoiding pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is a top priority for employers. And it’s also a hot-topic these days, especially with the new EEOC guidelines surrounding the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. The best thing you can do to protect yourself from litigation is to train all managers or supervisors—but especially the ones who are directly overseeing employees.
A few quick dos and don’ts
You have to be respectful and mindful when informed by an employee about her pregnancy. You should simply thank the employee for letting you know. Offer your support to her and let her know you’ll make reasonable accommodations for her, if needed.
You and your managers should never say anything that suggests your employee’s pregnancy is a burden to the organization. If you have any questions about what to ask or not ask the employee, talk to your human resources staff before you approach your pregnant employee.
Your employee handbook and job descriptions
You may not have a pregnant employee in your workplace at the moment, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be planning ahead.
Here are a couple things you can do to be prepared:
- Have an employee handbook in place that includes a policy covering of the federal and state laws related to leaves of absences, including those that address pregnancy.
- Make sure all job descriptions are up to date and that identified essential job functions are current. This may help make any interactive process easier.
- Regularly train managers and employees about their rights and responsibilities related to pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions, as stated in the EEOC guidance. This includes reviewing relevant federal, state and local laws and regulations as well as your employer policies.
Help with the interactive process
During the course of her pregnancy, your employee may go to her manager asking for accommodations, such as modifications to her job duties or for intermittent leave. Her manager would then need to engage in an interactive process with the employee, as defined under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The interactive process is a two-way communication between the employee and the employer, where they work together to find ways the employee can continue to perform the essential job functions while pregnant with or without reasonable accommodations.
When the meeting takes place, it is important to remember the following:
3. Take a look at the employee’s job description with her and determine if she’s able to perform the essential job functions. If she’s not able to do so, discuss any reasonable accommodations that can be made.
Examples of reasonable accommodations may include: if the employee needs intermittent leave because of morning sickness, the employer could allow her to take that morning off. Also, your employee may need temporary assistance with lifting heavy loads while pregnant.
An employer is not expected to take extremes in accommodating any employee; however, an employer who denies an accommodation should be able to demonstrate that the particular accommodation created an undue hardship for the employer. For additional advice on undue hardship, you should speak with your human resources staff or legal counsel.
4. Ask for a doctor’s note if your organization needs to get more information on the employee’s job restrictions and how to best accommodate.
All you can do is provide her with helpful information, such as the safety data sheets, and let her decide if she wants to continue working in the position or move to another position temporarily.
If you move a pregnant employee, she could claim retaliation by indicating you’re treating her differently—forcing her to move positions—because she’s pregnant. This could lead to a discrimination claim.
6. Get support from your human resources staff or legal counsel whenever necessary during this process.
It all comes back to educating your managers/supervisors—when they are educated about appropriate handling of employee pregnancies, your company will be in a much better position to avoid pregnancy discrimination now and in the future.
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