Maternity Leave Laws

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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.

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.

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: When an employee announces her pregnancy, the only appropriate response is “Con­grat­u­la­tions!” Anything else may end up being used against you later if things don’t go smoothly.

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.

Until now, courts have frequently concluded that a woman who is fired for undergoing fertility treatments—that is, fired before becoming pregnant—probably isn’t covered by the Pregnancy Dis­crimination Act. But now a court has concluded that women who undergo in vitro fertilization efforts are protected under the PDA. That’s because only women can undergo the process.

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.

Some employees think they can walk out on their jobs as soon as it looks like their employer is going to violate their rights. Then they sue, arguing constructive discharge. But courts expect employees to give their employers a chance to right wrongs.

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.

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