Workplace discrimination is a serious allegation. As an employer, knowing what not to say in certain situations can save you a lot of problems. This is particularly important when dealing with an employee who is expecting.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act ("PDA"), enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), provides clear guidelines for pregnant women's rights. It also enforces limits on actions employers can take based on their employee's pregnancy status. The following real-life cases brought forth by the EEOC can serve as a reminder that even well-intentioned actions can create a world of headaches.
If you want to keep yourself out of court, avoid saying the following four things to your employees.
#1 This Job is Dangerous for Your Unborn Child
A Florida furniture store chain was brought up on discrimination charges for prohibiting a pregnant employee from working in the facility. They claimed the reason was that the chemicals used could harm her unborn fetus.
According to the law, it's up to the pregnant woman, not her employers, to make decisions regarding potential risks to her unborn child. Any attempt by employers to involve themselves in this decision is deemed discrimination. In this case, the employer's "concern" ended up costing them over $55,000.
#2 You Can't Continue Working Here Because It Looks Bad
In Tempe, Arizona, a pregnant bartender was fired when her employers found out about her condition. The owners of the establishment stated a concern that she could be injured while working. They further justified the action by saying customers would find it offensive to see a pregnant woman behind the bar. The EEOC did not agree, and the case resulted in a settlement of over $41,000.
#3 You Can Keep Working... If You Get a Doctor's Note
In 2015, a pregnant employee at a donut shop was allegedly told she could only return to work after furnishing a doctor's note stating her pregnancy wasn't high risk. She was placed on unpaid leave, but after the EEOC attorneys were done with their case, she ended up with a $45,000 settlement.
#4 Don't Get Pregnant, or You're Fired
It should go without saying, but blatantly discriminatory comments should always be avoided. Don't ever tell your employees not to get pregnant or that they already have too many kids. Don't threaten to fire them if they do get pregnant.
This may seem outrageous, but it's exactly what one California employer was accused of saying. These comments eventually cost the employer $110,000 in fines, plus other required restitution.
Tips for Handling Employee Pregnancies the Right Way
Properly handling your employee's good news isn't nearly as hard as it may seem. All it takes is a bit of respect and some common sense. Here are a few tips to help you out:
- Do not share her news with others, she will tell her co-workers when she's ready
- Do your best to accommodate requests for time off as needed for doctor's visits
- Allow your employee to take water and bathroom breaks as needed and don't make her inform other employees when she does
As a general rule of thumb, avoid treating your pregnant employees any differently than you do the rest of your staff. Follow your employee handbook when it comes to time off and leaves of absence. Speak to all your managers. Make sure everybody understands the established rules and is prepared to follow them across the board.
Don't let a temporary situation cause you thousands of dollars in judgments. When in doubt, always err on the side of caution and consult an employment attorney before a problem escalates.