In an effort to prioritize and protect the health of employees during COVID-19, many hourly workforce employers have taken steps to distinguish and protect higher risk individuals within their workforces. Unfortunately, the act of singling out a specific worker or protected group can lead to various compliance failures and costly lawsuits in spite of good intentions.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently addressed one such group in an update on accommodating pregnant employees. They declared the act of preventing pregnant women and mothers from returning to work as an unlawful practice under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and prohibited employers from taking any adverse employment actions towards female employees on the basis of childbearing.
Let’s take a closer look at the laws protecting pregnant hourly workforce employees and how to maintain them in the coming months.
Workforce Laws That Protect Pregnant Employees’ Rights
There are several laws contributing to the protection of pregnant employees within the workforce, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). In addition to safeguarding against involuntary leave, layoffs and furloughs, these regulations provide:
- Reasonable workplace accommodations (for businesses who have 15 or more employees, and have given similar accommodations to non-pregnant employees);
- Unpaid, protected leave for underlying health conditions related to pregnancy (ADA and PDA);
- An additional 12 weeks of unpaid leave (FMLA); and potentially
- 12 weeks of partially paid leave (FFCRA) (for businesses that have fewer than 500 employees whose workers have other children at home and there is no available child care or school).
Many U.S. states and several cities have taken additional measures to protect pregnant women during COVID-19, as well. For example, requiring businesses to accommodate pregnant employees without requesting proof that similar accommodations were given to a non-pregnant worker or having to produce evidence of an underlying disability. Make sure your business is up-to-date on these laws and is prepared to act on them as you summon workers back to worksites.
Tips for Accommodating Pregnant Employees
Given the benefits available for helping expectant mothers avoid unnecessary COVID-19 exposure, the unrestricted recall of pregnant employees back to worksites may seem counterintuitive. However, all this really means is that, in addition to the aforementioned laws, you need to encourage pregnant employees to stay safe without limiting their capacity to work, taking discriminatory actions, or withholding appropriate accommodations.
Consider the following accommodations for compliantly protecting pregnant employees:
- Offer the opportunity to work remotely. It goes without saying, but if it can be offered to the rest of your workforce, make sure pregnant employees are encouraged to take advantage of the same opportunity and postpone their recall date with temporary remote work.
- Facilitate requests related to social distancing or Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). As most hourly work can’t be changed to a remote model, modifying a position to minimize contact with the public, having additional protective gear available, and providing isolated spaces to fulfill work-related tasks are all considered to be reasonable accommodations for pregnant hourly employees depending on your industry.
- Consider allowing temporary transfers to alternative positions. It can be extremely beneficial to allow employees to perform different tasks or roles within your operation if the one they were intended for puts them at too high of a risk or too close of contact with others. Uphold the employees’ right to choose what is best for their health and wellbeing. For hourly workers, this may mean working at a less populated site, or working at a site closer to home.
- Refrain from making changes to pregnant employees’ duties without conferring with them. Ensure all proposed changes to an employee’s role are lawful, consented to by the employee, and happen with ample warning in a suitable timeframe.
- Allow the use of protected leave and the payout of short-term disability insurance. Sometimes the reason a pregnant employee might be embracing unnecessary risks at work is because of financial strain. Be conscious to communicate all possible benefits which might allow the employee to prioritize their health, take necessary leave time, and maintain a healthy pregnancy.
HR Management with EPAY Systems
At EPAY Systems, we make it a priority to provide customers with premium Human Capital Management solutions, including access to HR expertise and compliance guidance. If you haven’t already crafted a COVID-19 policy for your employee handbook, we recommend finalizing one before inviting employees back to work for a clear and transparent transition.
We even created an example Employee Handbook Addendum which covers every major area of COVID-related management for optimum compliance and ease. For more insight on managing hourly workforce compliance during the pandemic, check out our guide “10 Critical Compliance COVID-19 Compliance Questions” or register for a personalized demo of our HR solution today!