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Warn bosses: Pregnancy plans talk is off-limits

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in Discrimination and Harassment,FMLA Guidelines,Hiring,Human Resources,Maternity Leave Laws

Are some of your organization’s supervisors still stuck in the Dark Ages when it comes to attitudes about pregnancy, childbirth and child care? If so, your organization may be a few off-base questions away from triggering a discrimination lawsuit.

Remind managers and supervisors to keep their opinions on mothers and motherhood to themselves.

The risks are greater than ever. Pregnancy discrimination claims filed with the EEOC are at an all-time high, climbing more than 28% in just the past two years.

One smart tactic: Work with hiring managers to create a list of legally safe interview questions, and teach them what’s off-limits (see box below).

Don’t let them “wing it” when talking with applicants. Make sure every question relates to this central theme: “How are you qualified to perform the job you are applying for?” Managers usually land in trouble when they ask for information that’s irrelevant to a candidate's ability to do the job.

Recent case: When Lindsay Johnson interviewed for a job at a California manufacturer, the interviewer allegedly asked about her plans for having children, noting that it would be tough to do the job with a newborn at home. Johnson said she wasn’t planning on having more children. She got the job.

All went well until Johnson became pregnant. She said her announcement was met with anger, and her supervisor said he wasn’t sure what the company owners would think of it. Soon after, the company announced a downsizing and terminated Johnson and a male employee.

Several months later, the company hired male applicants for positions similar to the one Johnson held.

Johnson sued, alleging pregnancy discrimination. The company asked the court to toss out the case, arguing it had legitimate reasons to terminate Johnson—the need to downsize.

But the court refused. It said Johnson had enough evidence that sex or gender was a motivating factor to send the case to trial. (Johnson v. Proline Concrete Tools, No. 08-909, ED CA, 2009)

Advice: Use the list below to alert your hiring managers to the most legally dangerous interview questions. (To distribute an expanded list electronically, download it at www.theHRSpecialist.com/25questions.)

Remind supervisors that the EEOC and other agencies sometimes send in test applicants to see how organizations handle the hiring process.

Sample policy and legal guide

For more advice on managing pregnant employees (including FMLA/ADA considerations), and to customize a free sample maternity-leave policy, access our free white paper, Pregnancy & Maternity Leave: A Legal Guide and Sample Policy.

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