Pregnant women have special protection from discrimination under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. But many employers don’t realize that PDA protections continue for a period of time after the pregnancy ends. Essentially, anytime you terminate an employee who has recently been pregnant, you risk a PDA lawsuit.
Maternity Leave Laws
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Some employees think that if they are pregnant, they can’t be fired. While it’s true that firing someone because they are pregnant is illegal, it doesn’t follow that every discharge involving a mother-to-be is discrimination. Be prepared to show legitimate, nonpregnancy-related reasons for your action and you should survive a lawsuit.
Here’s a tip that can save needless hassle: Tell managers and supervisors they should greet every pregnancy announcement with a big smile and a hearty “Congratulations!” That’s because at least one federal court in Ohio has used a supervisor’s silence as possible circumstantial evidence that the pregnant employee was discharged because she was expecting.
Performance improvement plans (PIPs) can help turn around subpar employees. But if you use PIPs, make sure you implement them equitably. For example, if you place a salesperson on a PIP to raise falling sales, then institute a PIP for everyone whose sales have fallen to the same level. That’s especially important if one of the employees is about to take FMLA leave or is pregnant.
The EEOC is suing Tarheel Medical Transport, alleging the Wilson County company forced pregnant employees to take leaves of absences until after their children were born. The lawsuit claims the policy violates the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
It’s one thing to grant a reasonable accommodation request. It’s another thing entirely to make the accommodation happen. Once you have approved an accommodation, someone from HR must ensure the decision is implemented.
When an employee announces she is pregnant, the only appropriate response is “Congratulations!” Then give her the information she needs so she can take any leave to which she is entitled. Negative comments can be used to prove pregnancy discrimination, but neutral ones cannot.