Pregnant employee? What laws apply

When an employee tells you she is pregnant, it is important for you to know what you must do, and what you must not do or say.

Following are highlights of the federal laws. Also be sure to check your state laws because some states mandate more generous considerations related to maternity laws in the workplace.You should be familiar with the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), applicable state maternity leave laws, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and in some cases the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Pregnant emplayeeThe Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to say that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination.

Any employer with 15 or more employees must comply with this act. In addition to federal law, check state laws because some states have maternity laws that are stricter than federal laws.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act includes prohibition of the following types of discrimination:

Hiring. An employer cannot refuse to hire a pregnant woman because of her pregnancy, because of a pregnancy-related condition, or because of the prejudices of co-workers, clients or customers. In fact, you cannot even ask during the hiring process whether an applicant is pregnant or intends to become pregnant. You can only ask whether the employee is able to perform the job requirements.

Pregnancy and maternity leave. You must treat pregnant employees the same as other employees in determining their ability to do their job. If an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job because of her pregnancy, the employer must treat her the same as any other temporarily disabled employee. Pregnant employees must be permitted to continue working as long as they are able to perform their jobs.

Health insurance. Any health insurance provided by an employer must cover expenses for pregnancy-related conditions the same as costs for other medical conditions.

Benefits. If an employer provides any benefits to workers on leave, the employer must provide the same benefits for those on leave for pregnancy-related conditions. Pregnancy-related benefits cannot be limited to married employees.

There is no federal law requiring employers to provide paid maternity leave. However, you must consider whether an employee is eligible for unpaid leave under the FMLA. FMLA leave may be used either for complications during pregnancy or for maternity leave after birth. If an employee meets eligibility requirements, you must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave and continue her group healthcare benefits during that time.

A normal pregnancy is not considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. However, if a woman experiences pregnancy-related complications that substantially limit a major life activity, she may be considered disabled under the ADA and therefore be entitled to reasonable accommodations at work.

Finally, you must assure that harassment on the basis of pregnancy does not occur on the job. Pregnancy harassment is defined as any unwelcome conduct related to the pregnancy, whether verbal, physical or written. The harasser may be a supervisor, co-worker, customer or vendor. Your diligence in complying with these laws related to pregnancy and maternity will substantially reduce your company’s likelihood of landing in court over these issues.

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