With working mothers making up a substantial portion of today’s workforce, it’s more important than ever to avoid discriminating against pregnant employees. Though landmark legislation passed 40 years ago strictly prohibits this (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 includes the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978), a couple of recent high-profile cases have recently made headlines, highlighting the sad fact that, despite protection by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, pregnancy discrimination still occurs. Taking steps to avoid it can ensure your practice operates by the letter of the law and prevents the stigma of a lawsuit.
Pregnancy Discrimination Defined
Pregnancy discrimination is defined as the unfair treatment of women based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. It applies to both employees and applicants, and includes denying (or forcing) time off, refusing to provide adequate accommodations, restricting work, and the following:
- Refusing to hire a pregnant applicant
- Firing or demoting a pregnant employee
- Preventing an employee returning from a pregnancy leave of absence from doing her same or a similar job
- Treating a pregnant employee differently from other temporarily disabled employees
Men can be the subject of pregnancy discrimination, as well. Refusing health insurance coverage for a male employee’s pregnant wife if a female employee’s husband has comprehensive health insurance coverage through the same company plan is also deemed discrimination in the eyes of the law.
Ensuring Fair Treatment
To avoid pregnancy discrimination in your workplace, there are certain rules you must abide by. One of the key things to keep in mind is that pregnancy is considered a temporary disability, and must be treated in the same manner by the employer. While specific laws vary by state, you must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. If their condition prohibits them from performing certain functions of their jobs, you are required to accommodate them in the same manner you would other temporarily disabled employees. Examples include providing lighter duty work, altering break and work schedules, shifting some job duties to other employees, providing ergonomic office furniture, and allowing the pregnant employee to transfer to a vacant position.
While your duties as an employer do not require you to keep an employee who is unable to perform their job or whose performance poses a safety risk to others, you cannot remove an employee from their job or force them to take a leave of absence because you believe their work would pose a risk to their safety or pregnancy.
In the end, practice fair treatment and rely on common sense. Consider it an honor when your pregnant employees are so invested in their jobs they want to continue working throughout their pregnancy and return to work afterwards. That’s a sure sign that your practice is doing something right!