What to Know about Pregnancy in the Workplace

Pregnancy in the Workplace; What You Absolutely Must Know!

You’ve undoubtedly read the recent headlines regarding changes in pregnancy in the workplace and how big shiny companies handing out parental leave like candy. Netflix, never to be outdone, is now offering unlimited maternity and paternity leave within the child’s first 12 months. Others, including Facebook Inc., Google Inc. and Adobe offer 12 weeks, 18 weeks and 26 weeks respectively. Perhaps you’ve even heard of “bring your kid to work” policies that are now being piloted across the country. Down here on earth, business owners and HR people must work diligently to remain compliant with regulations set forth by the EEOC, which includes the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), to still run a profitable and ethical business. As pregnancy in the workplace and pregnancy-related conditions in the workplace continue to be a hot topic in our country, we’ve taken the liberty of addressing some important points:

Q. What type of protections does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) provide my pregnant employees?
A. The PDA is an amendment of Title VII’s Civil Rights Act. Under this act pregnant employees are protected against discrimination based on their current, past or potential/intention to become pregnant. That last one can be a bit of an eyebrow raiser, so I’ll just say this: if you are considering not hiring someone who is fairly young, newly married and just looooooves children, I would be VERY sure your decision is based strictly on her inability to do the job and not the fact that she may be likely to become pregnant, capiche?

Q. Is pregnancy considered a disability under the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA)?
A. No, BUT many pregnancy-related conditions do qualify as disabilities, so it is important to understand that although actual pregnancy does not = disability, it does not mean that your pregnant employees are not protected by the ADA. A good example of this would be an employee who suffers from sciatica as a result of her pregnancy and requests a reasonable accommodation such as a standing desk.

Q. Am I, Mr./Mrs./Ms. Business Owner required to give my pregnant employee leave?
A. Tricky question. If the employee is disabled due to their pregnancy, then you are required to treat them the same as any other temporarily disabled employee. By not doing so you open yourself up to a very big and scary lawsuit like this one. If your company is covered by the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the employee is eligible, you are required to give them unpaid leave for their serious medical condition (pregnancy) and up to 12 weeks of bonding time after the birth. Click here for more info on FMLA

Q. My pregnant employee will not slow down or take it easy and I’m afraid she will hurt herself or the baby. Can I make her take a desk job or go out on leave?
A. While you may feel it is in the best interest of your pregnant employee to mandate they go on light duty or take leave, it is important that you as a business owner/manager fight this urge! Your employee has the right to work until they are physically unable to do so and it is up to the employee and her doctor to reach this decision not you. (NEVER YOU!)

Q. My pregnant employee wants to keep working but has requested light duty; do I have to give this as an option?
A. Yeah, pretty much. Try to remember that in the scope of your business, pregnancy in the workplace and employees suffering from pregnancy-related conditions must be treated the same as any other employee who is similar in their ability or inability to work. Therefore, if you allow light duty to another employee for almost any reason at all you will also need to provide that option to a pregnant employee, or risk facing a suit of unlawful pregnancy discrimination.

Q. Ok, so what about Dad?
A. Here is the quick and dirty answer on paternity leave. If you give leave to mothers beyond a period of recuperation from the actual birth, often referred to as maternity leave, you cannot fail to give an equivalent amount of leave to fathers for the same purpose (i.e. bonding, often referred to as paternity leave). This is probably why you are hearing the term “Parental Leave” more and more as the separation becomes obsolete.

Pregnancy in the workplace can be a very sensitive subject for all parties but it really doesn’t need to be. Just close your eyes, count to ten, and remember to treat your pregnant employees THE SAME AS any other and you really can’t go wrong. I regularly advise my clients on this and other regulatory compliance topics, please feel free to contact me directly with questions on how you can better safeguard your business. Email me at bryanne.kingsbury@clark-mortenson.com or call my office, 877-352-2121 extension 285.


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