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Some comments simply aren’t appropriate in the workplace—especially when the person weighing in is a supervisor or manager. Most bosses understand they can’t use ethnic or racial slurs, but many don’t understand that the same common sense applies to discussing family planning.

What sorts of comments are off limits? Just about anything that could make an employee think a supervisor might count it against her if she used FMLA leave. The only appropriate response to a pregnancy announcement is “Congratulations!” followed by a suggestion that the employee contact HR for information about maternity leave and benefits.

Recent case: Jing Ulit, who has several children, worked for a hospital. When she became pregnant, her supervisor started making comments about her fertility. Ulit said the manager said she had “too many babies” and should have her “tubes tied.”

Then she took FMLA leave. Ulit was terminated shortly after returning from FMLA leave.

She sued, alleging she had been fired for taking FMLA leave. She also claimed that her supervisor’s comments were evidence of an effort to dissuade employees from taking protected FMLA leave.

A jury sided with Ulit and awarded her back pay.

Then the judge used the supervisor’s comments to double the jury award. Under the FMLA, jury awards are doubled unless the employer can show it innocently broke the law. The judge concluded that the anti-pregnancy comments were evidence that the employer’s actions weren’t innocent at all. (Ulit v. Advocate South Suburban Hospital, No. 08-CV-2698, ND IL, 2009)

Final note: Commenting on employee pregnancies is bad enough. Also warn supervisors to stay away from comments on child care or elder care, too.

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