How to protect your pregnant employee’s rights

As of 2022, the average age of the first time mother in the United States is 30 years old—right in the middle of prime working years. With women making up 56.8% of the workforce in 2022, the chances of you hiring someone who could be pregnant while they’re under your employment is incredibly high. This is why it’s important to understand a pregnant employee’s rights.

Providing your employees a safe and supportive workplace is necessary to ensure the health and safety of your employee and their new family member. Here are a few things you should know as a small business owner to help maintain compliance with local and federal laws. Plus, we’re here to provide advice to help you provide a supportive workplace for your pregnant employees.

What should you do when an employee announces their pregnancy?

First things first—congratulations are in order! Your employee is about to embark on an exciting part of their life, and it’s important to be supportive and encouraging. The next step is to help them figure out the logistics of work. When it comes to pregnant employees, it’s important to be aware of specific legislation, as pregnant workers have rights that employers need to honor. 

Talk with your employee about the logistics of their pregnancy. Things like discussing benefits that the company offers, when they want to take leave, and coverage during their leave are all things that you can choose to discuss. Ask if your employee will need any accommodations to help them throughout their working day. It’s also a good idea to figure out a flexible schedule, should your pregnant employee need to leave work early for things like doctor’s appointments. 

After ironing out the logistics with your employee, the next step is to let them choose whether or not they want to alert the rest of the team. Some may choose not to tell their teammates until it’s absolutely necessary, but for those that do, your team should be respectful and congratulatory. Pregnancy discrimination can occur even from colleagues, so it’s important that your team continues to treat everybody with respect. 

Laws protecting a pregnant employee’s rights

Depending on where your business is located, your employees may have more protections under the law than others. State laws regarding pregnant employees vary, but there are a few federal laws every business owner needs to know about. If you’re curious about the local laws in your state, check out the compliance homebase.

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA)

This new law signed on December 29, 2022 requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to a worker’s limitations as it relates to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The only time the employer is exempt is if providing these reasonable accommodations will cause the employer an “undue hardship.”

It’s important to note that this only applies specifically to accommodations within the workplace, and doesn’t replace any federal, state, or local laws. Some state laws provide more protection to pregnant workers, and the PWFA doesn’t replace those laws. 

This law goes into effect on June 27, 2023 and will be regulated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA)

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was created as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This prohibits sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. In combination with Title VII, the PDA makes it illegal for employers with 15 or more employees to discriminate against women because of pregnancy, child-birth, abortion, or any medical conditions as it relates to pregnancy or childbirth. 

Under the PDA, pregnant employees of businesses with 15 or more employees need to be provided with the same benefits and accommodations as other, non-pregnant employees who have similar abilities or limitations. 

Pregnancy discrimination can look like:

  • Firing an employee or denying a candidate a job because they’re pregnant
  • Denying or withdrawing a promotion, or even demoting an employee because they’re pregnant
  • Providing a pay cut or offering a less desirable schedule because an employee is pregnant
  • Forcing an employee to stop work or take leave because they’re pregnant, but still able to work
  • Denying workplace accommodations for pregnant employees
  • Harassing pregnant employees, whether the person in question is a supervisor, coworker, or a customer

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act provides eligible employees of covered employers the opportunity to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. That includes pregnancy. When taking leave, employees are offered group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions under their employment, as if they were still working regularly.  

Employees eligible to take FMLA leave are entitled to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave within a 12 month period for:

  • The birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth
  • Adoption placement for adoption or foster care for the newly placed child within one year of placement
  • To care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition
  • A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of their job
  • Any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty”

An employee can also receive 26 work weeks of leave during a single 12 month period. This leave can be to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the service member’s spouse, child, parent, or next of kin. This is often referred to as military caregiver leave, but falls under the FMLA. 

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The FLSA covers a wide variety of aspects of labor law, including minimum wage, overtime pay, and youth employment standards. This law applies to employers whose annual sales total $500,000 or more or who are engaged in interstate commerce. It covers nearly all workplaces, as courts ruled that interstate commerce can be something as small as sending a letter to a different state. 

One of the aspects covered under the FLSA is break times specifically for nursing mothers. 

The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act

This portion of the FLSA states that nursing employees have the right to a reasonable break time and place in order to express breast milk at work. That means no pumping in a bathroom stall, no pumping in a busy inventory room, and it goes without saying, but the availability to not express breast milk in view of anyone else. Employers need to offer this to employees for up to one year after a child’s birth. Covered employees are allowed to take a reasonable break each time they need to express milk. 

If a covered employee needs to pump, you can’t deny their requested breaks: and there’s no set number of breaks they can take, or a specific amount of time they’re allowed, since this amount of time can vary so much from person to person. 

Back to a reasonable place to pump for a minute. If there’s not a dedicated room solely for the purpose of your employee(s) expressing breast milk—which, we’re guessing not a lot of small business owners have—it’s your responsibility to ensure that the space you do have is readily available when it’s needed. 

In addition to a private area and reasonable break times, nursing employees need to be completely relieved of all of their responsibilities. If not, they need to be compensated for their time. For example, an individual working hourly might use their two 15 minute breaks to pump milk. If they need any more time beyond that, they’re allowed to take that additional break. They don’t have to be compensated for that time. However, if the individual is still performing duties related to their role while expressing milk—like updating a team schedule or adjusting inventory—they’ll still need to be paid.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is a civil rights law that prevents discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, which includes employment. The goal is to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. 

While being pregnant isn’t technically a disability, pregnant individuals might have impairments that are related to their pregnancy that can qualify as a temporary disability under the ADA. Under the ADA, employers are required to provide employees with reasonable accommodation so their employees can fulfill their duty. 

How you can best support your pregnant employees

Unsure how to best support your pregnant employees? Here are a few steps you can take to help create a supportive environment so your employees can grow their family.

Create pregnancy policies before you need them

If you don’t already have a pregnancy policy in place, get advice from experts so you can implement a successful policy before you actually need one. In the event that one of your employees does become pregnant, you don’t have to worry about scrambling for accommodations to maintain compliance. Instead, you’re already prepared. 

Don’t have an HR pro on hand? Not to worry. The team at Homebase can help with any HR and compliance issue, giving you guidance, advice, and helping you create workable and fair policies.

Having a policy beforehand also highlights to prospective employees that you’re actively thinking about benefits and the future. That goes a long way to making you a much more desirable employer. If a prospective employee is thinking about starting a family, they’ll want to choose the employer that will best support those goals.

Offer more benefits for pregnant employees

Offering more robust benefits than the bare minimum is an excellent way to support your pregnant employees. Paid parental leave can help decrease infant mortality rates as well as improve the mental well-being of the parents. 

Providing paid time off for your pregnant employees means they don’t have to worry as much about going back to work. According to the National Partnership for Women & Families, every additional week of paid leave a mother takes reduces the likelihood of reporting poor mental well-being by two percent. Paid leave offers the parents more time to bond and care for their child. That can greatly reduce stress, decreases the intensity of depressive symptoms for the birthing parent, and improves child development.

In addition to the health benefits, providing paid leave helps your business as well. Paid parental leave is a very valuable benefit that people look for in employers, and providing that can help attract more talent and retain the employees that you have.

Create a solid return to work plan

Before your pregnant employee comes back to work, craft a return to work plan with them. You want to ease their return so they aren’t just diving into the fray. Work with them to figure out what kind of accommodations they’ll need before coming back to work. Talk to them about the hours that they want, and how you can best support them during the transition. 

Loop the rest of the team into the plan as well. Sometimes, things may have changed up during an employee’s leave. If this is the case, treat it almost as if they’re a new hire again. Consider having a buddy to help them out as they get ramped back up to their day-to-day. 

Connect your employees with a community

If you have other working parents on your team, connect them to your newly pregnant employee. Providing a group of peers can help make the transition less challenging for the new parent. This can help your employee feel less alone. As well, employee resource groups are great for providing a safe place for employees to talk amongst themselves.

With an easy-to-use team communication app, you can make it easy for people to connect without giving out confidential information—especially useful if you have team members who work in different locations.

Support your employees at every stage.

Homebase can help you stay compliant and make it easy to meet your employees where they are. That includes throughout their pregnancy and beyond. Get started today.

Pregnant employees rights FAQs 

What are the major laws that protect a pregnant employee’s rights in the U.S.?

The federal laws that protect a pregnant employee include the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act (PWFA), the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

For more specific legislation regarding state laws, check out the labor laws every business owner should know. 

What is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is a law that requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees as it relates to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This law goes into effect on June 27, 2023. 

What steps can you take to ensure employees feel comfortable when pregnant at work?

To ensure your pregnant employees are comfortable at work, it’s best to create a parental leave policy before it’s needed. From there, you can work with that specific employee to craft the best option that works for them. Ensure it’s something that fits within your unique parental leave policy. 

It’s also important to foster a supportive and encouraging culture. That means means ensuring that other employees are equally as supportive. The goal is to minimize the amount of harassment a pregnant employee may encounter. One idea to consider? Offer to connect your employees with a network of other working parents. This can can help them transition into becoming parents, and coming back after the child is born.

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