Understanding your obligations to all of your employees isn’t just smart — it’s essential if you want to avoid discrimination claims. Today, we’re going to discuss the protections afforded by law to your pregnant employees.
Here are some of the most important things you need to know:
Who is protected?
The protections afforded to pregnant employees apply to:
- Women who are trying to become pregnant, including those going through fertility treatments
- Women who are currently pregnant
- Women who have recently been pregnant (including those who have miscarried or had an abortion)
- Women who have a medical condition related to pregnancy
- Women who are lactating, including those who are expressing milk for their infants
Not all employers understand that pregnancy protections are that broad and don’t end at childbirth, which can create confusion about their obligations.
What are your obligations to protected employees?
While every situation is somewhat unique, employers generally:
- Cannot fire an employee because of their pregnancy or condition
- Cannot force a pregnant employee to take leave or accommodations that aren’t wanted as long as they can safely function otherwise
- Cannot deny reasonable accommodations or a leave of absence because of a pregnancy-related condition
- Cannot deny a pregnant or lactating employee a promotion, assignment or another career opportunity based on their pregnancy
- Cannot fire an employee due to their pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition
- Can’t refuse to return an employee to her job after a pregnancy-related leave of absence (unless there has been a significant change in the company’s circumstances and needs that is unrelated)
Even when you fully understand your obligations as an employer, you can find yourself embroiled in a discrimination claim after a misunderstanding or a dispute over exactly what is “reasonable.” If your company is under fire due to pregnancy discrimination, seek an experienced legal defense.