Donuts and Discrimination: Avoiding Pregnancy Discrimination Lawsuits
If you have ever been tempted to write your own employee handbook policies, here’s a story about a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit that may convince you otherwise. And there are donuts involved, so that’s fun.
This is the same old tale of an employer not letting the pregnant employee work unless she has a doctor’s clearance, taking her off the schedule, and then firing her for objecting and/or not reporting to work. (After being taken off the schedule, remember.)
Can you hear that dry rustling noise? That’s a crowd of EEOC lawyers rubbing their hands together in glee at how easy it’s going to be to win this pregnancy discrimination lawsuit.
Now, stories like this aren’t shocking if you have an education in HR or employment law, but they may surprise you otherwise. The trouble is, when it comes to pregnant employees, an employer can easily be 100% well-intentioned and yet still CLEARLY discriminating according to the law.
The phrase “no good deed goes unpunished” applies here.
This is a topic that comes up constantly, whether you’re a donut-maker or a doctor. You may truly be trying to protect your pregnant employee and her unborn child, but meanwhile, you’re about to land in some boiling hot legal water.
We frequently share employer training on this issue, and here’s why: during the process of evaluating hundreds of employee handbooks, we kept coming across pregnancy and maternity leave policies that were well intended but clearly discriminatory.
Those dangerous policies looked something like this:
“Employees must inform the practice as soon as they become pregnant. In order to protect the mother and the unborn child, employee must obtain a note from her doctor letting the practice know it’s OK for her to work.”
No! Don’t do it! That policy is like wiring money directly to a lawyer’s pocket.
The point is, policies and actions you think are simply considerate or prudent may potentially be discriminatory. Do not act on behalf of a pregnant employee, or require that she take certain actions related to her pregnancy. It’s up her to make all decisions about her own safety and that of her offspring.
The other point is, please don’t write your employee handbook yourself. It’s just not safe.
To help protect your practice, here is some recent EEOC guidance on avoiding pregnancy discrimination. You’ll also want to check out our Employer Solution Series trainer on Maternity Leaves of Absence, a related and similarly tricky subject.
For a more detailed look at how to write legally compliant maternity policies, watch our on-demand webinar on the subject.
(Want to ask our Solution Center Advisors about a situation in your own practice, or find out if your current pregnancy/maternity policies will get you in trouble? Call 866-414-6056 or email
firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll be happy to help.)
Friendly Disclaimer: This information is general in nature, and is not intended to replace good counsel about a specific issue with either your attorney or your favorite HR expert.