Women now make up over 50 percent of the workforce. Many of these women are pregnant employees and new mothers. With a significant number of women working later into their pregnancies than ever before, employers face a number of issues in managing pregnant employees such as:
• Preventing pregnancy discrimination;
• Providing reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees; and
• Coordinating leave for pregnancy and childbirth related conditions.
In order to effectively manage pregnant employees, employers should keep the following tips in mind:
1. Be Aware of Federal and State Legal Requirements.
Under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, as well as many state and local laws, pregnancy is a protected class. As a result, discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions is prohibited. However, federal law does not currently require employers to accommodate pregnant women and it guarantees pregnant women equal, but not preferential, treatment in the workplace.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, has been introduced in the US Congress and it would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees if doing so would not cause the employer an undue hardship. These accommodations may include providing a stool to sit on or reassigning heavy lifting tasks. Further, some state laws require that employers provide reasonable accommodations. Employers should continue to watch out for any legislative changes as this is a rapidly evolving and emerging area of the law.
2. Implement Policies and Practices to Prevent Pregnancy Discrimination.
It is important for employers to recognize the needs and concerns of pregnant employees and in doing so implement and enforce policies that strictly prohibit discrimination.
These policies should explicitly state that the employer prohibits pregnancy discrimination in any form, and should provide the name of employer representatives for pregnant employees to contact should they have any questions or concerns regarding the employer’s policies or the treatment they are receiving at work. All relevant policies should be included in an employee handbook and should be available on any internal website as well.
3. Provide Supervisors and Management with Training.
It is critical for employers to provide training to all supervisors and managers on how to handle pregnant employees. As an employee’s pregnancy progresses, supervisors should be aware of how pregnant employees are doing and be cognizant that these employees are now in a protected category.
If a pregnant employee needs to be counseled, disciplined, or if her employment needs to be ended for any reason, supervisors should contact HR to avoid any appearance of retaliation. Also, all documentation and correspondence with respect to a pregnant employee regarding her pregnancy or impending leave should be accurately saved and filed.
4. Follow Up On Complaints in a Timely Fashion.
Employers should be sure to immediately respond to pregnancy discrimination complaints by gathering all relevant information and documents. Employers should carefully select an investigator if an investigation is warranted and fully examine the allegations by interviewing witnesses and attempting to determine what occurred. It also is critical for employers to institute any interim measures during the investigation and follow up with remedial measures if necessary.
5. Provide Reasonable Accommodations to all Pregnant Employees.
Although federal law and the majority of states do not require that pregnant employees be provided with workplace accommodations, employers may choose to voluntarily provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women, including:
• Light duty work;
• Transfer to a less strenuous position;
• Reduced hours;
• Time off for doctor’s appointments;
• Permitting employees on bed rest to telecommute; or
• Granting additional leave.
Employers should carefully evaluate each request on a case-by-case basis in order to not lose or turn away valuable employees. What’s more, employers should be sure to communicate with pregnant employees regarding their medical condition and any leave they intend to take related to pregnancy or childbirth under state or federal family and medical leave law as well as short-term disability. Employers also should make sure to coordinate leave and coverage of employee’s duties and responsibilities.