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Don’t let stereotypes dictate pregnancy policies

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in Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

Some ideas die hard—such as the belief that pregnant women can’t work in what some consider dangerous or strenuous jobs. If you make assignment decisions based on that mistaken belief instead of real medical information, you could end up in court.

Recent case: Heather Spees worked for James Marine as a welder. She was one of just a handful of women who had completed specialized training and often earned praise for the quality of her work. Some supervisors even suggested to male co-workers that they should work as hard as Spees did.

Then she got pregnant. When she told her supervisor, he immediately became concerned that she might not be able to work under the tough conditions welders face. They’re regularly exposed to toxic fumes, must lift heavy equipment, and do lots of climbing and overhead work. He asked Spees to get medical clearance.

Spees got a note from her doctor that said she could work without restrictions. That’s when the supervisor told her to get another note so he could reassign her. He claimed that “common sense” dictated that pregnant women shouldn’t be exposed to toxic fumes. Apparently he was worried because he knew Spees previously had a miscarriage.

Spees got the note and was reassigned to the tool room, with the same pay and benefits. Later, when her doctor placed her on bed rest, James Marine terminated her.

She sued, alleging that the transfer and discharge constituted pregnancy discrimination.

The court agreed—in part. It said that, while her termination after she was unable to work at all was legitimate (she had no other leave coming), the transfer to the tool room at a time when she had no medical restrictions was illegal. (Spees v. James Marine, et al., No. 09-6839, 6th Cir., 2010)

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