Pregnancy-based discrimination is a common problem for women in the workforce — it's also illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. If your company has female employees, understanding this issue can help you avoid accidental or intentional discrimination.
Understanding Pregnancy Discrimination
Pregnancy discrimination happens when an employer makes any decisions that negatively affect a woman's career simply because she is pregnant. Refusing to hire a pregnant woman is one common example. An employer might also decide to deny a promotion to a pregnant woman because he's worried that her maternity leave will disrupt the company. This type of discrimination can also be subtle, and may even happen with good intentions. For example, an employer might keep a pregnant woman home from an important conference because he's worried about how the flight might affect the baby. Other forms of discrimination include harassment, targeting pregnant women for layoffs and not providing fringe benefits.
As an employer, you can take steps to avoid or stop pregnancy discrimination in your company. Training is a great first step. Education helps managers and employees understand how their actions might be discriminatory, so they can identify problems and stop. When you're working with female employees, it's also important to remove a current or possible pregnancy from the decision-making process. If an employee is pregnant, it's a good idea to wait for her to disclose it to you before you make plans for leave or alternative accommodations.
How Should Employers Accommodate Pregnant Women?
Sometimes, pregnancy may temporarily prevent a woman from carrying out her usual work responsibilities. When this happens, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission requires you to offer the same accommodations that you would for temporarily disabled employees. You might offer lighter duty tasks or make alternative work arrangements so the employee can continue working. If you offer unpaid or paid leave to temporarily disabled workers, you must also offer it to women when their pregnancy makes it impossible to keep working.
Non-Discriminatory Medical Procedures
Medical clearance procedures can be a stumbling block when it comes to pregnant employees. The EEOC prevents you from targeting pregnant women for special procedures — this is considered pregnancy discrimination. As a rule of thumb, it's best to treat all employees equally when it comes to special accommodations or medical leave. If you don't require a doctor's note for unpaid leave due to illness, you shouldn't require one for pregnancy-related leave. The same applies to holding jobs for employees on leave and allowing them to come back to work when they're able. When it comes to maternity leave, you're required to comply with the Family Medical Leave Act.
Pregnancy discrimination can be difficult to spot, since it's often hidden or masked by good intentions. By educating your staff and treating pregnant women equally, you can avoid discrimination and help your female workers succeed.
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