Pregnant Worker Woes?
Yahoo’s hiring of CEO Marissa Mayer created a lot of buzz in the business community. It wasn’t just due to the fact that a woman was hired to run one of the largest and best known tech companies in the world, though that in and of itself was a rarity. Even more incredible than that fact was the fact that Marissa Mayer was pregnant, and Yahoo knew that when they hired her. Evolved thinking? A sign of better times for women in the workplace? One might think so.
But if that’s the case, why has the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) put an increased emphasis on the enforcement of pregnancy anti-discrimination laws?
There have been some flagrant and even outrageous cases recently involving pregnant women and employment.
Here are just a couple illustrative examples:
- Sandbar Mexican Grill in Arizona had a policy which prevented pregnant servers from working on Sundays. Why? Allegedly because they believed that the men who came to enjoy a Sunday football game would be unhappy if served by pregnant women. The EEOC ordered the restaurant to pay a $15,000 fine for denying these lucrative shifts to pregnant employees.
- Brandi Cochran, one of the models on The Price is Right, was awarded $776,944 when she sued after the show refused to return her to her job after she took maternity leave.
- There’s the case of Christina Spigarelli, an employee at Target, who alleges her supervisor told her that her “decision-making was being affected” by her pregnancy hormones causing her to not think right, resulting in her termination.
- And the most recent jaw dropping case is that of Rosario Juarez who was awarded $185 Million in a lawsuit against AutoZone for harassing, demoting, and eventually terminating her during her pregnancy.
Even the Supreme Court has taken up pregnancy discrimination:
Just recently ruled in the case of Young v. UPS in which UPS denied a pregnant employee’s request for light duty under the company’s accommodation policy.
In March the Supreme Court ruled for the employee and sent the case back to the lower court stating that if an employer accommodates some temporary disabilities, it must accommodate pregnancy and cannot treat pregnancy worse than any other temporary disability.
In 2014, the EEOC received 3,400 complaints of pregnancy discrimination. Of these types of EEOC cases in the past 10 years, almost 75% of them relate to wrongful termination. Many of these settle with fines and result in lawsuits and jury awards. Understanding the laws is paramount to protecting your business.
The statistics show that working mothers are a huge presence in our workforce. 64% of women with children under the age of 6 participate in the workforce, and 57% of women with infants are employed.
In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which forbids employment discrimination based on pregnancy.
- This includes acts relating to hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, and fringe benefits.
- This means businesses cannot refuse to hire someone because they are pregnant, or because of a concern that they might become pregnant.
- A pregnant employee has the same rights to be considered for promotion or new job assignments.
- And they cannot be terminated if a business feels that a pregnancy might cause an issue in their workplace.
The EEOC has identified pregnancy discrimination as an emerging issue.
- In their Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2012-2016, they say that many pregnant women are forced onto unpaid leave after they are denied the accommodations “routinely provided to similarly situated employees.”
- The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) excludes ordinary pregnancy from the list of conditions that must be accommodated. However, recent steps by the EEOC indicate that they are ready to protect employees who have certain common pregnancy-related conditions, such as anemia, sciatica and gestational diabetes.
Many employers provide light duty work to employees who are temporarily disabled by on-the-job injuries, or even if an employee needs temporary accommodations following an accident, surgery, or illness. If your business is willing to take that smart, commonsense approach for any other employee, the EEOC expects you to do the same for a pregnant woman with work restrictions. And if you would hold a job open for another employee who was temporarily unable to work, you should do the same for a pregnant worker.
With this increased focus on pregnancy, Congress has also stepped into the conversation.
- The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced into both the House and the Senate in 2012.
- This legislation would require employers to make reasonable accommodations based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions unless it was a hardship for the business.
- It would also make it illegal to force a pregnant woman to accept an accommodation that she didn’t want.
A review of EEOC complaints on this issue show that some businesses fail to provide simple accommodations that assist pregnant workers to stay on the job longer.
These accommodations could include:
- Providing stools to workers who stand most of the day
- Allowing more frequent bathroom breaks
- Giving them the flexibility for doctor appointments
- Providing access to water sources for hydration.
In light of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling, the EEOC has issued updated guidance for businesses. The Fact Sheet for Small Businesses: Pregnancy Discrimination http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/pregnancy_factsheet.cfm and Questions and Answers about the EEOC’s Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues are valuable resources.
Marissa Mayer has become a recognizable face for pregnant employees in the workplace. Yahoo certainly set an outstanding example for businesses. And just recently Mayer was recognized as the highest paid female CEO. Hiring, retaining, promoting and supporting pregnant workers is not just the law, but as Yahoo has shown us, it’s just good business sense as well.