10 Things Employers Should Know About Accommodating Pregnant Employees

by | Mar 31, 2017 | Blog

  • Amy Letke

    Amy Newbanks Letke, SPHR, GPHR, is the Founder of Integrity HR, Inc. Amy provides workplace solutions to improve performance, reduce liability and increase profits. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs and business owners achieve success. Contact us for more insights - 502-753-0970 or info@integrityhr.com

Do you have an employee who is pregnant or has recently given birth?

Do you know your rights and the rights of your employee?

Are you wishing the pregnancy announcement came with an instruction manual?

We understand! Two of our own Integrity HR team members recently welcomed new babies, and we’ve been working hard the last few months to accommodate our new moms.

While we eagerly await their return from maternity leave and coo over baby pictures, we’ve written you a list of ten things you should know about accommodating your pregnant employees.

10 Things Employers Should Know About Accommodating Pregnant Employees (before and after the due date!)

#1 It’s Federal Law

If you’re looking for motivation to learn about pregnancy in the workplace, look no further! Employers are required by federal law to offer accommodations to pregnant employees and new parents.

Pregnancy accommodation rights in the workplace are covered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Family and Medical Leave Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA). Read more about the federal guidelines here. 

#2 You Can’t Decide for Her

In a spirit of good will, you may try to help your employee by making accommodations on her behalf. Freeze – cool down your baby fever!

As an employer, you can get yourself into trouble if you make decisions on behalf of your pregnant employees. Under the PDA, an employer cannot remove a pregnant employer from her job or give her lesser assignments because of perceived risk to the employee. For example, it is discriminatory for a machine-shop manager to move a pregnant woman to a desk job because they decide the environment is too dangerous for her.

#3 Normalcy is Expected

So, what can you do to help? It’s not complicated – just act normal!

A pregnant employee can work normally until she asks the employer for an accommodation or until it becomes clear that she is having difficulty completing her duties. Potential accommodations might include altered break schedules, permission to sit or stand, temporary adjustments to job functions, or permission to work from home.

#4 Beware Of Your Bias

Commercials, movies, memes – we’ve all seen the scenes of pregnant women suddenly bursting into tears, struggling to stand-up, or eating ice cream and pickles simultaneously. But be wary of allowing your perceptions of pregnancy to negatively impact the way you treat your employees.

Employers and managers must be careful about projecting their unconscious biases onto their pregnant employees. Some common examples might be thinking that they can’t work, are overly emotional or can’t lift any amount of weight.

#5 Job Descriptions Are Key

We’ve talked about this before – but seriously, job descriptions are your best friend! (Read our blog about how to create accurate job descriptions here.)

If a pregnant employee verbalizes that she’s having trouble completing her job duties, HR should ask her to discuss her job description with her doctor. The doctor should focus on the tasks that are affecting her pregnancy and recommend accommodations that might help. As the employer, you then have the right to choose which accommodation best meets the needs of your organization.

#6 Alleviate Precedent Concerns

You’ve heard it before and you’ve probably said it yourself – “If I do X for you, I’ll have to do X for everyone!”

Employers worry about setting a precedent for all employees when they make accommodations for pregnant women. If they let one woman have a chair to sit during a “standing only position” then they fear having to let others do the same.

Alleviate your concerns by asking your employee for a doctor’s note explaining why the accommodation is crucial to her health and the health of her baby. Understanding and communicating that the accommodation is temporary may also help put your anxieties to rest.

#7 Your Last Resort

What if the accommodations just aren’t cutting it?

Only when all possible accommodations have been found inadequate by the employer or employee should HR suggest unpaid leave. FMLA could be an option, but because this leave is unpaid, it should be the final resort.

#8 Lactation is a Right

Her maternity leave is almost over, and you’re eager for your employee to rejoin the team (and show you baby pictures). Make sure you have a lactation space prepared for her first day back – it’s the law!

(Check out our previous blog on tips on how to avoid lactation discrimination in the workplace here.)

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employers are required to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk.”

Employers are also required to provide “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” Read more about the rights of nursing mothers here.

#9 FMLA for Both Parents

Maybe your workplace is filled with twice as much excitement and you’re employing both parents. If both parents are your employees, it is important to distribute your time and resources equally.

FMLA* could enable new parents, foster parents, or adoptive parents to take up to 12 weeks of leave to bond with their newborn or care for their child. If FMLA applies to both parents, you should avoid focusing on just one parent.

Note* Employers are not required to offer FMLA to their employees unless the employer has 50 or more employees working within a 75-mile radius.

#10 Remember State Laws

Don’t forget – some states have greater protection for pregnant or nursing mothers, so make sure your workplace is compliant with both federal and state laws. Read more information on your state laws for pregnant and nursing mothers here.

Understanding the laws and establishing appropriate accommodations for your pregnant employees and new parents will only multiply your organization’s success.

We know that navigating the legalities of employer and employee rights can be challenging. Contact us to learn about how we can help you find HR solutions to accommodating your pregnant and recently pregnant employees.

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