5 Tips To Avoid Pregnancy Discrimination

 In Assess & Protect

5 Tips To Avoid Pregnancy Discrimination Claims

It can be very difficult for a business owner to keep things running smoothly and fully staffed some days.  When a company takes active steps to avoid discrimination claims, including pregnancy discrimination claims, it can be even more difficult to keep the workflow seamless.

It’s easy to make decisions that seem to be right for the operation, but that turn out to be unlawful and discriminatory.  This often happens unintentionally.

Being a Business Owner Can Be Risky

In spite of these challenges, business owners risk claims of biased decision making if they don’t take careful consideration of 3 things:

  1. Their business needs
  2. The needs of their employees and
  3. The associated legal requirements

National Company Faces  Pregnancy Discrimination Claims

Pregnant woman doing janitorial work

This was the case for Jani-King, recently accused of pregnancy discrimination by a former employee.  Jani-King is a national franchised janitorial company.  They are based in Dallas, Texas.  They hire janitors, housekeepers, and related workers.  Jani-King provides cleaning services to residential and commercial customers.

In 2009, one of their housekeepers informed her manager that she was pregnant.  However, she told them she would continue to work as long as possible.

Apparently, the manager became nervous about her working a fairly physically demanding job.  He requested a doctor’s note confirming that she was able to work.  The employee did provide a doctor’s note stating that she was in good health and was able to work until further notice.

Nevertheless, the manager didn’t believe she could perform the work and cut her hours.  She was later fired even though her doctor cleared her as fit for work.

Never Ignore A Lawsuit Charge

When the employee filed a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit against Jani-King, the company didn’t  answer the charges or appear in court.

Jani-King paid $50,000 plus significant injunctive relief.

The US District Court fined them the highest amount allowable for pregnancy discrimination claims.

In addition, the court forced Jani-King to develop and monitor a policy to permit pregnant women to work as long as they are willing and able.

A More Recent Case Of Pregnancy Discrimination Claims

The Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant chain paid a $550,000 fine in 2016 because a manager in a Washington DC location fired a pregnant worker.
Unfortunately, lawsuits of this type can take years to resolve. Here’s what I mean by that:
  • The firing took place in 2011
  • The lawsuit was filed in 2014
  • The ruling was issued in 2016

So, let’s examine the situation to understand how this whole nonsense came about.

First, the pregnant worker, Ms. Garcia, told her manager she was pregnant. Next, he (call him David) immediately began monitoring her water and bathroom breaks and limiting her access to them.

Now, if you’ve never been pregnant, you have no idea how painful and unhealthy that can be.

Discrimination Has A Price

To make matters even worse, the manager deliberately humiliated Ms. Garcia.  He announced to the entire staff that she was going to the bathroom every time she did.  He claimed he required her to do that so he could provide coverage for her position.  Why would a public announcement be necessary?  It isn’t.

Indeed, the straw that broke the camel’s back, occurred when Ms. Garcia left for a pre-natal doctor appointment.  She requested the time off several times in advance.  However, David refused to grant his approval or respond to her requests.

Since she left on the day of her appointment, without his approval, he fired her.  His reason?  He claimed she abandoned her job.

A word of warning to employers: Don’t try to cloak a discriminatory decision in a fake policy violation justification.  It’s illegal.

David and his company, Chipotle, paid a significant price (to the tune of $550,000) for his discriminatory decision.

So, two very different cases. Different situations, different states. Nevertheless, they both resulted in pregnancy discrimination claims that were lost by the defendants.

Tips To Avoid Pregnancy Discrimination Claims

Here are 5 things business owners must do to prevent such penalties and avoid pregnancy discrimination charges:

  1. Be proactive. Establish a written policy that prohibits discrimination against employees for medical reasons, including pregnancy discrimination.
  2. Be clear in your expectations for employees. Explain the complaint resolution procedures. Also, outline the consequences for violating the company policy.
  3. Educate all employees, especially supervisors and managers, regarding the intention of the policy. In addition, teach the correct steps to take in handling medical situations that may be considered safety factors.
  4. Work with a human resources professional so that you understand how various laws overlap.  These include worker’s compensation laws, The Americans With Disabilities Act including recent updates, HIPAA privacy laws and other laws that impact pregnancy discrimination issues.
  5. If you receive notice that you are charged with a legal complaint of any kind, do not ignore the notice or let it get lost.  Take it seriously and handle it in a timely and professional manner.

And remember, when you’re not sure about the best course of action when faced with a potential pregnancy discrimination lawsuit, contact us for assistance.  You can reach us at [email protected].  We are here to help you navigate your HR landscape.

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