Avoid Discrimination Due To Pregnancy

The Virginia Human Rights Act safeguards individuals in the Commonwealth from unlawful discrimination in employment because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, or disability. Among these factors of potential discrimination, pregnancy is likely the most frequent element with which employers must deal.

On the federal front, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Women affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations.

An employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because of her pregnancy-related condition as long as she is able to perform the major functions of her job. An employer may not single out pregnancy related conditions for special procedures to determine an employee's ability to work. However, an employer may utilize any procedure used to screen other employees' ability to work. For example, if an employer requires its employees to submit a doctor's statement concerning their inability to work before granting leave or paying sick benefits, the employer may require employees affected by pregnancy related conditions to submit such statements.

If an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job due to pregnancy, the employer must treat her the same as any other temporarily disabled employee; for example, by providing modified tasks, alternative assignments, disability leave or leave without pay. Pregnant employees must be permitted to work as long as they are able to perform their jobs. Employers must hold open a job for a pregnancy related absence the same length of time jobs are held open for employees on sick leave or disability leave.

If an employer provides any benefits to workers on leave, the employer must provide the same benefits for those on leave for pregnancy related conditions. Employees with pregnancy related disabilities must be treated the same as other temporarily disabled employees for purposes of accruing seniority, vacation calculation, pay increases and temporary disability benefits.

Bottom line ... treat women who have absences related to pregnancy the same as you would someone with any other short-term impairment, such as a broken leg, extended illness, etc.

For those employers with 50 or more employees, remember that pregnancy related illness, childbirth, and care of a newborn child are qualifying absences under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). As such, the employee may be entitled to up to 12 weeks absence in a 12-month period of time.

Should you have questions about employment discrimination issues, you may contact SESCO Management Consultants by phone at 423-764-4127 or by email at sesco@sescomgt.com .