Looking out for the safety of a pregnant employee is no excuse for termination
Download a copy of our Pregnancy and Disability Legal Guide now for help on this critical employment issue.
A couple of pregnancy discrimination cases recently settled by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) serve as a reminder that an employer’s good intentions in protecting a pregnant employee are not a defense to discrimination. An Eastern Washington fruit grower recently agreed to pay $17,500 to settle an employee’s claim that she was fired nine days after she disclosed that she was pregnant with twins. The employee had been with the company for six years, and successfully worked her way up from field laborer to supervisor. Even though the employee’s doctor had cleared her to continue performing her job without medical restriction, the company said it fired her because it feared for her safety and was concerned the company could be liable.
In addition to the financial settlement with the EEOC, the company agreed to implement complaint procedures, distribute a non-discrimination policy, conduct annual training for all employees in both English and Spanish, post a workplace notice about the case, and send written reports to the EEOC for two years (EEOC press release, May 4, 2015).
A Mississippi assisted-living home agreed to a similar settlement with the EEOC, including a payment of $20,000, two years of oversight by the EEOC, and special training and reporting requirements. The employer was accused of firing a pregnant employee on her first day on the job, just three hours after she informed her supervisor that she was pregnant. The employee claims the supervisor told her that she could reapply only after she gave birth, and then replaced her with a non-pregnant employee (EEOC press release, April 30, 2015).
Tips: Remind your managers that making employment decisions based on the intent to protect pregnant workers may amount to unlawful discrimination in the absence of valid medical documentation. Pregnant employees are entitled to make their own decisions about whether or not to work while pregnant. If you have reason to believe the employee may not be able to perform the physical duties of the job, you may request a fitness-for-duty note from the employee’s health care provider. Make sure you provide a job description for the health care provider’s review. For further clarification of EEOC equal employment opportunity laws, consult your Vigilant employment attorney. For more information, you can download our Legal Guide, Pregnancy and Disability, or request to view a copy of our Model Form, “Fitness-for-Duty Report.”