Warn managers: Avoid assumptions about pregnant employees’ limits

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) says you can't fire, demote or discipline a pregnant employee simply because of her condition. Take that one step further by reminding supervisors that they also can't use common pregnancy-related symptoms, such as morning sickness, as a reason to discipline pregnant employees.

Too many managers make instant assumptions when they hear of an employee's pregnancy. ("She'll be absent more." "She'll quit after the birth.") But that's a legal mistake. Even a supervisor's well-intentioned discussions about an employee's pregnancy could be taken the wrong way if the employee is later fired.

Bottom line: The PDA requires equal treatment, not preferential treatment. That means you should provide the same accommodation for pregnant employees that you do for other employees unable to perform their regular duties.

Recent case: Soon after becoming pregnant, Marilyn Pickler was fired from her technician job at an auto dealer. She sued, alleging pregnancy discrimination.

The company said it fired Pickler due to supervisors' concerns that her morning sickness would cause her to throw up in customers' cars as she worked on them. Supervisors also said they were concerned about Pickler's safety.

A court didn't buy it, saying the company appeared "largely to have relied on its own assumptions about pregnant women" in deciding to fire her. The company agreed to settle the case by paying Pickler $70,000 and promising to train managers and employees about the PDA. (EEOC v. Berge Ford Inc., No. CIV02-943 PHX SRB, D. Ariz., 2004)

For more tips on avoiding lawsuits from pregnant employees, access our free report, Pregnant Employees: Answers to Your 20 Toughest Legal Questions, at www.hrspecialist.net/bias.