She’s always been a star employee. Top notch. Cream of the crop. The only problem is she’s pregnant. Unsure how to broach the topic of her impending maternity leave, you regress into a blithering mass of awkwardness every time she approaches your office. How are you supposed to handle an expectant mom who’s on your payroll? Quite simply put, you’re supposed to treat her just as you would anyone else.
If you are confused right now, wondering how in the heck you can treat someone with morning sickness, back pain, and the potential to give birth in the office like a typical employee, you will want to read on.
Your first step to learning how to navigate an employee’s pregnancy is to make yourself familiar with the laws that pertain to a company of your size.
- Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The PDA only applies to businesses that have 15 or more employees. It prohibits any discrimination based on “pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions.”
- Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). According to The Huffington Post’s “5 Ways to Deal with a Pregnant Employee Without Getting Sued,” this applies to all companies that have at least 50 workers within a 75-mile radius. For over twenty years, this act has ensured that qualified individuals receive twelve weeks of unpaid leave without fear of losing their jobs. “Pregnant Employees: Answers to Your 20 Toughest Legal Questions” adds that in order to be eligible, the employee must have worked for the same employer for a minimum of 12 months, and have clocked at least 1250 work hours in the 12-month period prior to the leave.
If you have less than 15 employees, you are not off the hook. You are likely regulated by state or local regulations.
So how does any of this equate to treating your pregnant employee as you would anyone else? The Family Medical Leave Act is there for qualifying employees if they need to care for an ailing child, spouse, or parent with a serious medical condition. It can also be used during the employee’s own recovery time from a serious illness. The expectant mother is simply receiving the same treatment as anyone else with a family medical need.
It is important to note that the FMLA also applies to parents who are adopting a child. While your employee will not undergo the physical ramifications of pregnancy, she will likely have other things on her mind. They, like an expectant mom, will need time off on the delivery day and, if they are having an open adoption, they will likely need to meet the birth parents as well. As “Open Adoption Planning Should Include at Least One Meeting with the Adopting Parents” states, it is important for birth and adoptive parents to meet to get to know each other and make arrangements like who will be in the delivery room and who will hold the baby first.” It is important to be sensitive to the issues surrounding putting a child up for adoption as well.
When you hear the words “special accommodations,” you may think that pregnant moms require special treatment. This is not so. In fact, expectant moms are simply entitled to what any other employee in a similar situation could expect. If her doctor has requested that she receive a light duty assignment, you must afford her the same treatment as any company employee who is given light duty for medical reasons.
Exposure to certain chemicals can be harmful to the unborn child. Plus, as the Mayo Clinic’s “Working During Pregnancy: Do’s and Don’ts” states, “Some studies have shown that women who work physically strenuous jobs during pregnancy–including heavy lifting, standing for long periods, irregular or excessive hours, and other variables–are more likely to deliver prematurely, have low-birth-weight babies, and develop high blood pressure during pregnancy.” She is, therefore, medically justified in her request–just like the worker with a back injury or a recent cardiac episode.
She Doesn’t Bite
If you are uncomfortable, just imagine how your employee feels. Not only do you tense up every time she comes within shouting distance, but she is likely worried about her position within your company. If she approaches you, don’t shrink in fear. Instead, talk to her about her work concerns and discuss the company’s policies with her openly. This will probably give her the reassurance that she needs and allow her to focus fully on having a healthy, bouncing baby.
But don’t treat her like a fragile china doll either. This will come across a patronizing and she probably gets enough “pampering” and “protecting” from her doting, expectant-father, husband.
She can be your star employee, top notch, and cream of the crop–even while she’s pregnant. And you can make her pregnancy much easier by treating her just like you always have. So stop hiding and get back to business as usual.
What steps can an employer take to ensure that their pregnant employee feels comfortable in her workplace?