Can a pregnant sales rep be terminated for not meeting quota?

Ask the Job Doc.
Ask the Job Doc. –Boston.com

Q:  I joined a new company in late 2017 as an account representative for the Northeast region.  It has been chaotic because I have had 3 different managers since I started working here.  In June, our company hired a new Sales Manager.  I announced in late June that I would be having a baby in the early winter.  Our new Sales Manager seems like a good person but he has said repeatedly that meeting our quota is the most important part of our job.  The account reps are a mix of men and women so I don’t see a big deal there.  However, can the Sales Manager terminate me before my due date because I am not meeting my quota?  My company has not terminated a lot of employees but I am feeling like this new Sales Manager is hyper-focused on our results.  

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A:  I can understand your concern! In Massachusetts, there are both state and federal laws (depending upon the size of the company) which might protect employees from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, however, these laws do not excuse pregnant employees from meeting the performance requirements of their positions or insulate them from termination. Thus, a failure to meet your quota could be grounds for termination even prior to your giving birth, but whether termination is lawful or not depends on a number of factors.

The law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of pregnancy means that your employer cannot treat you differently than non-pregnant employees with respect to job requirements, pay, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment. The law also prohibits your employer from disciplining, terminating or taking other adverse employment action against you because of your status as a pregnant woman. However, being pregnant does not excuse you from meeting the performance requirements of your position or insulate you from termination provided that the employer is not terminating you because of your pregnancy. In other words, if you fail to meet your sales quota and are terminated because of it, and the employer holds non-pregnant employees to the same standard, there is no violation of the law.

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However, in Massachusetts, there is a new law called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.  I consulted Jeffrey Dretler, a partner in the firm of Fisher and Phillips LLP.  Dretler explains, “If the reason why you have not met your sales quota is related to your pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition, it is possible that you could find some protection in a newly passed Massachusetts law called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. This Act requires that an employer grant a reasonable accommodation for an employee’s pregnancy or condition related to pregnancy, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. A reasonable accommodation is a modification or adjustment that allows an employee to perform the essential functions of the employee’s position. Some examples of reasonable accommodations are: (1) more frequent or longer breaks; (2) time off; (3) providing equipment or seating; (4) temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous job; (5) job restructuring; (6) light duty; (7) private space for expressing breast milk; (8) assistance with manual labor; and (9) a modified work schedule.” If you find yourself having trouble meeting your quota due to your pregnancy, it would be worthwhile to discuss the issue with your employer sooner rather than later in order to see if there is any a reasonable accommodation that could be made under the circumstances.  However, you will still be required to perform the essential functions of your role, which in your case may be meeting a sales quota.