Author: Beth P. Zoller, XpertHR Legal Editor

As women make up over half of today's workforce, a significant number of employees and applicants are pregnant women as well as mothers returning to work after childbirth. As such, an employer faces multiple issues in managing pregnant employees. Some examples of the various challenges an employer may confront include:

  • Preventing discrimination and harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions;
  • Evaluating workplace policies that have an adverse effect on pregnant workers and new mothers;
  • Providing pregnant employees and lactating mothers with reasonable accommodations; and
  • Coordinating leave.

An employer needs to know that pregnancy discrimination is prohibited by federal, state and often local law. Therefore, the employer needs to be proactive and take affirmative steps to eliminate pregnancy discrimination and bias in the workplace by adopting strict policies against discrimination and harassment. An employer also needs to follow up on any pregnancy discrimination complaints with a thorough investigation and disciplinary measures if needed.

Further, the employer needs to train supervisors on how to manage pregnant employees and unique issues related to pregnancy. A pregnant employee may not be singled out for special treatment and an employer should treat a pregnant employee the same as other individuals who are similar in their ability or inability to work. If a pregnancy-related condition substantially limits one or more major life activities and impacts an employee in her ability to work, the employee may be entitled to a reasonable workplace accommodation. However, an employer should know that they are required to provide the same benefits and leave to women affected by pregnancy as they provide to other individuals who are similar in their ability or inability to work. If an employer provides light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave or unpaid leave to non-pregnant workers, it is required to provide the same benefits to pregnant women. Also, an employer is prohibited from forcing a pregnant employee to take leave if she is able to perform the essential functions of her job.

An employer should continue to be aware of any developments as this is a rapidly changing area of the law.

Using XpertHR's various Tools and resources can help an employer successfully implement policies prohibiting pregnancy discrimination and manage pregnant employees and those returning to work after pregnancy and childbirth.

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