Pregnant women are still fighting for equal employment opportunities and access to reasonable accommodations for work in 2021. Fortunately, recent federal changes are helping to paint a brighter future – one where pregnant women are able to keep themselves safe on-the-job and where employers have clearer guidelines for supporting them.
With the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) approving the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act on August 3, compliance alerts should be going off in your HR office. Your business could be facing a new federal bill requiring reasonable accommodations be made for pregnant workers specifically, as well as broader enforcements non-discriminatory practices.
Pregnancy discrimination claims have been steadily increasing in federal courts every year since 2016, so now is the time to revisit your current workforce policies and brainstorm ways to better manage liability with confidence.
Pregnancy-Related Compliance & Litigation
While state-level legislation will differ across the U.S., most pregnancy-related worker claims happen when an employee provides either direct or circumstantial evidence indicating your business took action against her on account of her pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions.
With a lack of standardized protocols to adhere to, it can be easy to feel like pregnancy discrimination claims are imminent. That said, the main compliance areas to you will want to stay on top of are the following: the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the *Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). While the ADA does not cover pregnant women directly, women who have complications during their pregnancy can be considered as qualified.
Protecting Yourself Against Discrimination Claims
While you cannot prevent a lawsuit from happening in every circumstance, understanding the behaviors that put you or your policies more at risk can help. According to workforce law specialists, there are specific behaviors (or adverse employment actions) which have high likelihoods of sparking unlawful pregnancy discrimination claims.
Here are some of the actions to avoid taking towards pregnant employees:
- Deferring from your usual disciplinary practices and procedures,
- Suspicious timing or hovering,
- Being inconsistent with reasons for an adverse action, and
- Unequal treatment towards other similarly situated employees,
- Cutting back scheduled hours for any reason,
- Coercing into taking medical leave or quitting,
- And more.
Supporting Pregnant Women in the Workplace
While there is an abundance of actions you must avoid taking towards pregnant employees, there are more ways you can ease liability concerns. That largely starts with examining your own policies and deciding if your HR processes are as successful as they could be.
Additionally, you can do the following to lowering pregnancy discrimination claims:
- Examine all applicable federal and state laws: Federal laws like the Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to require employers to provide a reasonable break time and private locations, shielded from view, for new mothers to express breast milk for up to a year after the child’s birth. For a full list of requirements, visit the EEOC page, “Legal Rights of Pregnant Workers Under Federal Law.” As is the case with most state laws, many have their own restrictive mandates to consider.
- Update anti-discrimination statements to include pregnant employees: Compliant policies may emphasize that pregnant employees should be treated the same as employees who have temporary disabilities/medical conditions. They may also include that pregnant employees do not have to request or take leave, altered duties, and similar accommodations if they do not wish to do so.
- Keep all your employees aware of pregnancy policies: Same as all the other policies in your employee handbook, each should be communicated to your employees without exception. That way your pregnant employees are not faced with unrealistic expectations by managers and co-workers, and you aren’t made responsible for unfulfilled accommodation requests or antidiscrimination measures.
- Conduct thorough training and leadership preparation: Ensure your managers and employees understand the types of actions that constitute pregnancy discrimination and know how to report reprehensible incidents. Your team leaders need to know how to respond to requests for assistance and accommodations as well as complaints.
There is only so much any employer can do to avoid a discrimination claim or compliance misstep. Read, “6 Steps to Take After You Get Sued” for a roadmap on handling individual and class action lawsuits.
HR Guidance for Facing Litigation
At EPAY Systems, we make it a priority to provide our customers with award-winning workforce management software and premium HR consulting services. Whether you have to make changes to your benefits administration, upload new policies to your employee handbook, or make last-minute accommodations for a pregnant employee – EPAY’s robust Human Capital Management (HCM) platform can do it all.
With help from our certified HR specialists and innovative compliance tools, you will not only feel more secure and prepared against lawsuits – your business’s chances of waking up to a lawsuit will actually go down. Download our report, “10 Steps to Prevent Labor Lawsuits” for more guidance on avoiding the court room, or request a demo today.