The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978 and applies to businesses with 15 or more employees. According to this law, women are entitled to receive fair treatment regardless of whether they are or plan to become pregnant. Women are entitled to seek, accept and maintain employment without fear of punishment or penalty if they are pregnant or plan to become pregnant in the future. Employers who violate this law are infringing upon the civil rights of the victim.
Although it is now illegal for businesses to terminate or penalize pregnant women, many companies still regularly engage in the practice. To prevent your business from breaking the law and getting prosecuted, here is a breakdown of what you can and cannot do as an employer to women who are currently or plan to be expecting.
Job Protection and Work Duties
You cannot terminate a woman who is pregnant or who plans to become pregnant. No matter the nature of the job, it is understandable that you may have safety concerns for that employee. However, it is your responsibility as an employer to make sure that the workplace remains reasonably free of hazards that could result in sickness, injury or death. You may not modify that employee’s work duties to increase her safety and limit her exposure to any workplace hazards. You also may not change that person’s pay, benefits or employment status because of her condition. It is not your job or responsibility to be concerned about the employee and her unborn fetus. It is up to the woman and her healthcare provider to be concerned about them.
You must extend the same employment opportunities to all applicants, including pregnant women, regardless of job duties. Depending on the type of position, you may be concerned about productivity issues, longevity and other concerns, but you cannot allow them to impact your hiring decisions. If a pregnant woman comes in to interview for a position that she is well qualified for, you must treat her candidacy just like you would treat the candidacy of another non-pregnant individual who has similar credentials and experience.
You cannot withhold promotions, pay or other incentives once a woman returns to work after giving birth. Even though you may think you are helping that worker out so she can take it easy, doing so is discrimination and can result in you and your business being sued.
You cannot force a pregnant employee to take time off work before or after the baby is born. Even if it is clear she is not able to perform her duties as normal, you don’t have the right to interfere in that manner or you risk being fined or worse, sued. Some women develop pregnancy related conditions that you may feel entitles them to receive special treatment. Under federal law, it is illegal for you to extend that courtesy; you must treat that employee the same as you would treat any other employee who is not pregnant and has medical impairments.
Pregnant and soon-to-be-expecting women are entitled to receive the same benefits as all other employees while they are on leave, such as job security, benefits, seniority accrual, vacation pay and raises regardless of if they are on medical or disability leave.
Health Insurance Coverage
If you offer health insurance to your employees, you must provide coverage that includes pregnancy as a regular condition. You are not required to provide coverage for abortions, but any insurance you offer employees must provide coverage for any medical conditions that may arise as the result of the procedure. You cannot require female employees to pay higher premiums or deductibles if they are or plan to become pregnant.
Although pregnant women can become liabilities, you are limited in what you can do to alleviate the risk. Businesses are bound by federal law to provide women employees in all job classifications every protection offered under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
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