Q. I work a physically demanding, construction job. I recently informed my foreman that I am pregnant. I told him that I might have to miss work from time to time in order to attend medical appointments, but I am in great shape and plan to work as long as I can. My foreman said I had better start looking for a new job because I would harm my baby if I stayed on the job through the pregnancy. Can they force me to stop working now that I am pregnant?
A. Absolutely not. Federal and state law are very clear that employers cannot make assumptions about a pregnant employee’s ability to perform a difficult job. In addition, it is up to the woman and her doctor to decide what she can and cannot do. An employer cannot limit an employee because the employer is worried about the unborn child. Employers are required to treat pregnant employees like any other employee with a medical condition. If the medical condition limits an employee’s ability to perform a job, then there should be a discussion about whether the employer can offer accommodations to help the employee.
According to Bill Hoch, an employment lawyer with EmCo Consulting, LLC who advises companies on HR and employment law questions, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently issued an Enforcement Guidance discussing the rights of pregnant employees in the workplace (http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/pregnancy_guidance.cfm). The Guidance contains a good discussion of the law and offers practical examples, two of which apply to your situation. The Guidance explains that an employer cannot reassign a pregnant welder to a less strenuous, but lower paying job, and a cleaning company could not place a pregnant employee on a leave of absence, solely because the manger felt the jobs were too demanding and could harm the pregnant employees or the unborn children. The EEOC states that the employee, in consultation with her doctor, should make the decision about how long to work during the pregnancy.
In addition, once a pregnant employee decides that she is no longer able to perform all of her job duties, the employer should evaluate her situation in the same manner that it would review a request for an accommodation due to any other type of disability. A pregnant employee is generally entitled to a reasonable accommodation if it would help her continue to work in her position during her pregnancy. Examples of accommodations might be a limit on lifting heavy objects, the opportunity for rest breaks, a reduced work schedule or special tools to help perform the job. In addition, a pregnant employee should be given time off for doctor’s appointments just like any other employee who needs to see a doctor.
In short, you – and not your boss – will decide how long you can work into your pregnancy. If you need reasonable accommodations to be able to work, you should ask for an accommodation and be prepared to provide a note from your doctor supporting your request. Good luck with your pregnancy and congratulations!