Workplace discrimination is a hot-button issue today. Unfortunately, such behavior is as diverse as it is widespread, and can take a number of forms and be motivated by a variety of ideas. While race and gender discrimination are frequently addressed issues, there is another group of employees who have recently been pushing for more protection at work: expectant mothers.
Some employers may not realize it, but pregnant workers often require special accommodations. While some companies are willing to work with these staff members, others have encountered speed bumps along the road to workplace equality. Here's what you need to know if you want to avoid legal snags with your pregnant employees.
Know the legislation
Much like race and gender discrimination, there is legislation in place to protect pregnant workers as well. The EEOC outlined the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prevents workers from treating pregnant women negatively or unfavorably due to their pregnancy. The PDA is written in fairly broad terms, but in general, "discrimination" under this act can include anything from hiring decisions to duty assignments to eligibility for promotions. Additionally, the PDA requires that any workplace that allows employees to take temporary medical leave due to illness or injury must also permit pregnant women to take temporary leave as a result of their pregnancy.
Balancing reasonable accommodation
Essential for employers to understand is that under the PDA, pregnant women are afforded the same protection as workers with other conditions protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. In practical terms, this means employers must provide reasonable accommodations to those women who would otherwise be unable to carry out their job. Light duty, decrease in physical activity and flexible hours are all provisions that employers should be prepared to offer to pregnant employees – and failure to do so may result in costly legal action such as EEOC lawsuits.
HR as a resource
Small-business owners may find this new legislation intimidating, or be afraid of taking a costly misstep with policy. The good news is that HR services can be valuable resources in this regard. HR outsourcing through PEO companies can provide smaller organizations with the administrative expertise needed to navigate potentially tricky waters. Employers can work with HR professionals both to help create policy, but also on a consulting basis. HR representatives employed by these companies are in great positions to be able to advise executive as to how a specific situation can or should be handled.