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You’re not a doctor! Don’t restrict pregnant employee’s work unless her physician says so

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in Employment Law,FMLA Guidelines,Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

Some old-school managers cling to outdated notions about how to treat pregnant employees. Kind gestures are fine, but watch out if a manager’s overprotectiveness results in women being denied promotions or opportunities to work when there’s no reason not to.

Recent case: Soon after Rebecca McSweeney, a restaurant events coordinator, announced her pregnancy, she developed complications and had to be under medical care for two weeks.

When she tried to return to work, her supervisor told her that the best thing for her unborn child was not to return to work during her pregnancy.

McSweeney disagreed and kept asking when she could start work again, armed with a doctor’s note clearing her for duty. Instead, she was fired.

McSweeney sued, alleging pregnancy discrimination and retaliation. The court said both claims could go to trial. (McSweeney v. Dinner’s Served, No. 10-2219, SD TX, 2010)

Final note: The only appropriate response to a pregnancy announcement is “Congratulations.” Then assume the employee is fit to do her job. Unless yours is one of the rare industries in which harm could come to the fetus, don’t place restrictions on the mother’s work unless a doctor requests it.

Should she need time off for complications, treat that request as you would any other request for temporary leave for other illnesses or injuries. That’s all the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires (see www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/pregnancy.cfm).

And if an employee is eligible for FMLA leave, remember that any medical care related to the pregnancy qualifies under the FMLA.

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