Accommodation of Pregnant Employees in the Workplace
The number of pregnancy-related discrimination lawsuits filed across the country has skyrocketed in recent years. According to one review of pregnancy-based workplace discrimination lawsuits between 1986 and 2003, as many as 40% of all gender-based workplace bias lawsuits involved pregnant women. According to the data, since 2000 alone, complaints about workplace- discrimination filed by pregnant women have increased by as much as 50%.
Many employers do have a stereotype that pregnant women are unreliable, and need increasing accommodations as the time for the delivery comes near. There is also a widespread fear among employers, that pregnant women may simply not have enough time or attention for the job once the baby arrives. This often forces employers to behave in in an undesirable manner, and make decisions that very later can lead to employment lawsuit.
What adds to the confusion is the lack of comprehensive laws that can clearly define what exactly an employer must do to accommodate a pregnant employee in the workplace. Currently there are just seven states, including California, that accommodate pregnant employees in the workplace. For example in California, the law protects pregnant women by guaranteeing the right to job-protected leave even when it is unpaid, and also requiring that a pregnant woman be shifted to another position, if she’s unable to perform her normal duties as the pregnancy progresses. In fact, California has some of the strongest protections for pregnant employees, and has seen a rise in litigation arising out of alleged workplace bias against pregnant employees.
Telling an employee that she needs to go on leave because she is not able to perform certain jobs as a result of her medical condition is not the ideal way to deal with such situations. Many pregnant employees, especially in this economic environment where job opportunities are not that easy to come by, panic when they are asked by an employer to take a few months off before the delivery. They may simply assume that the maternal leave will extend to a permanent one, and that they may never be accommodated back into the workplace. As an employer, you can shift the employee to another position in the workplace that is less physically strenuous, as the pregnancy progresses.