'Mistake-Proof' Your Company's Pregnancy Policy, Firms Advised

'Mistake-Proof' Your Company's Pregnancy Policy, Firms Advised

One of the touchiest areas any employer in the kitchen/bath industry must deal with is that of pregnancy-related issues.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was enacted in 1978 and specifically prohibits employment discrimination based on an employee's pregnancy. The PDA requires equal treatment of women "affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions" in all aspects of employment, including hiring, promotion, employment termination, and the receipt of fringe benefits. The PDA applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

In addition, employers may be required to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period for eligible employees under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. The provisions of the FMLA do not bind employers with less than the requisite number of employees.
It's still important to know what the law states, even if you're not liable.

While laws may vary from state to state, and interpretations of the law can vary from court district to court district, what follows are some general guidelines that can help.

  • When hiring, avoid all mention of pregnancy-related issues. Do not ask applicants about how many children they have, whether or not they plan to have children, or how they will care for their children. Do not make assumptions about the applicant's physical ability to do a job if she is pregnant.

  • The PDA prohibits an employer from terminating an employee because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. However, the law does not prohibit an employer from making termination decisions based on legitimate, well-documented, job-related reasons. As with all employees, a regular performance evaluation should be conducted, and the record kept in writing. The evaluation should not involve pregnancy-related issues. Pregnancy or the possibility of pregnancy should not even be referred to.

  • You may want to require all employees to submit a doctor's evaluations in writing before granting any medical leave or paying sick benefits, so as not to single out pregnant employees. If one of your employees is temporarily unable to perform her job due to pregnancy, you must treat her the same as any other temporarily disabled employee in terms of assigning her other duties or putting her on leave.

  • A pregnant employee must be allowed to work as long as she is able to perform her job under the law. If she takes a temporary leave early in her pregnancy, you cannot require her to stay on leave until she gives birth. Nor can you specify how much time she takes off after giving birth.

  • Your health insurance plan must cover pregnancy-related expenses on the same basis as any other illness. Health insurance coverage for abortion-related issues is not required, unless the abortion is required to save the life of the mother. You must provide the same level of health benefits for spouses of male employees as you do for the spouses of female employees.

  • Pregnancy-related benefits cannot be limited to married employees.

  • You cannot subtract a maternity leave from an employee's time of service when figuring vacation eligibility, pay increases or the like

For specific information, kitchen and bath company owners are advised to contact an attorney. Figuring your policy for these issues ahead of time, putting that policy in writing, and making sure your employees are aware of it can help head off problems down the road.