Maternity Leave Laws
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THE PROBLEM: Company policy clearly states that employees are mandated to work overtime during busy periods. An employee did so willingly, until she became pregnant. During the busiest period of the year, she shows up with a doctor’s note explaining that she can no longer work overtime. What would you do?
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII to prohibit employers from treating pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions any differently than they treat employees with temporary disabilities. It forbids pregnancy discrimination in hiring, firing, wages, benefits, pay increases, seniority, promotions, demotions, transfers, leaves of absence and other terms of employment.
Placing an employee on forced leave can form the basis for a lawsuit, according to a recent 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision. That’s true even if the forced leave is consistent with company policy and applies to all employees.
Generally, pregnancy isn’t a disability under the ADA, nor are pregnancy-related complications. But under some limited circumstances—when pregnancy complications cause separate medical conditions that persist after birth—the employee may qualify as disabled under the ADA.
There is no freedom from discrimination based on having premarital sex, but there is a right to be free of pregnancy discrimination. It may seem odd, but employers can technically fire someone for behavior that doesn’t meet the employer’s “moral” standards as long as no other protected characteristic is involved.
Maternity leave becomes an issue under the legal proscriptions of both the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. The PDA requires employers to treat employees desiring maternity leave in the same way as they treat those workers out on short-term disability. And the FMLA has a boatload of demands employers must adhere to when it comes to leave for maternity and childbirth.
When discrimination based on pregnancy plays a part in a demotion or termination, the employee has a case under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Paternalistic beliefs that pregnant women need protection should not be part of the reason for any action, even if well-intentioned.
Warren Tricomi Salons, with locations on New York’s Upper East Side, will pay $30,000 to settle a pregnancy discrimination suit filed by the EEOC on behalf of an assistant who claims the company rescinded an offer to promote her and then fired her after her boss learned she was pregnant.
Here’s a tip if you use performance improvement plans (PIP) before termination. Track what happens to everyone who’s on a PIP. Note those who quit instead of facing discharge.
If you provide additional leave or special arrangements for someone recovering from a heart attack or broken leg, you must provide them for a pregnant employee, too. Otherwise, you may be violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.