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Your Employee Is Pregnant—Here Are 5 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

Suzanne Lucas Founder of Evil HR Lady 
Pregnancy Discrimination 101: Your Employee Is Pregnant—Here Are 5 Mistakes You Don’t Want to Make

To celebrate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act turning 40, Senator Tammy Duckworth just had a baby. Well, sort of. Since she’s the first senator to ever give birth while in office, it seems like a fitting celebration for a law that’s been on the books since before most pregnant women were born.

Because the law is so old, you would think most businesses would understand it inside and out. But even Walmart, one of the nation’s largest employers, is in the midst of a pregnancy discrimination suit.

The law, apparently, isn’t super easy for all businesses to follow.

Here are the most common mistakes small businesses make with pregnant employees—and how to steer clear of them.

1. Assuming the law doesn’t apply to your small business.

People often equate pregnancy with the FMLA (aka the Family and Medical Leave Act), which doesn’t kick in until you reach 50 employees.

However, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is actually a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Therefore, it applies to businesses with 15 or more employees—not just 50 and up. So if your business is super small then no, it doesn’t apply. However, you should definitely act as if it does, because it’s the right thing to do for your employees.

How to comply:

2. Asking “Are you pregnant?” in a job interview.

Look, you shouldn’t ask that on the street either. Assume no one is pregnant unless you’re an actual medical professional and they’re sitting in your office for a check-up.

It’s illegal to refuse to hire someone because they’re pregnant, so it’s not a relevant question in a job interview. Plus, it can be a little rude.

And while you’re at it, don’t ask your current employees either—even if you notice some telltale signs. Your employee will tell you when they’re ready for you to know.

How to comply:

3. Not treating pregnant women like normal employees.

There are tons of old wives’ tales involving what pregnant women can and cannot do. Don’t lift your arms above your head, carry heavy boxes, or eat this. All pregnant people have heard them all, and probably don’t want to hear it from you too.

A pregnant person should be treated like any other employee. If there are medical concerns that require special treatment, they will tell you and provide a note from their doctor.

If light duty (for example, reduced walking or no heavy lifting) is requested by your employee’s physician and your company normally offers that to people with disabilities, you also have to offer it to your pregnant employee.

How to comply:

4. Telling your employee not to return to work.

Don’t ever say that you don’t want your employee to come back to work, even if you think you’re being nice.

Some people have super-easy pregnancies while others go through hell. We joke about morning sickness, but some women (including Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge) suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum, which is serious and requires medical treatment.

If your employee is so cursed, they may need to take a leave of absence at the beginning of their pregnancy. And no, you can’t prevent them from coming back. If their doctor clears them for work later on, be sure to welcome your employee back with open arms.

How to comply:

5. Assuming they’re not coming back.

Some people quit their jobs to stay at home with their baby. And some people are so eager to get back to work they count down the days. Most of us are right in the middle.

Always assume that your new parents will be back. And that’s a serious benefit to your business—turnover is expensive. Specifically, it costs around 33 percent of your employee’s annual salary to replace them. For a person earning $45,000 a year, that’s a whopping $15,000.

To ensure a smooth transition back, two things will really help them out.

  • A mother’s room. Make sure you have a private, locked room available for pumping along with a fridge to store breastmilk. And no, bathrooms won’t work. (This is the law for non-exempt employees and should be for all employees too.)
  • Flexibility. Consider allowing more flexible schedules for new parents. It could be working from home from time to time, cutting back hours, or working different hours. Honestly, this should be offered to all employees, regardless of their newborn status. One study found that people who WFH got 13 percent more work done than employees who stayed in the office.

How to comply:

The gist? Let your employees tell you their post-baby plans—and don’t make any guesses.

Most of all, stay positive. Parental leaves are fleeting and an incredible milestone in your employees’ lives. Support and celebrate this moment. With a little understanding of how the laws work, it doesn’t have to turn into a business meltdown.

Updated: January 5, 2021

Suzanne Lucas
Suzanne Lucas Suzanne Lucas spent 10 years in corporate HR where she hired, fired, managed the numbers, and double-checked with the lawyers. Now she writes and speaks about human resources, business, and how to make your job and company the best it possibly can be.


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