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Pregnancy discrimination: don’t let good intentions get you in trouble

By Paul Edwards  bio

Chances are, you would never intentionally discriminate against a pregnant employee, and your doctor(s) and team probably feel the same way. But it can be easy to unintentionally discriminate. When it comes to pregnancy discrimination lawsuits, the road to court is usually paved with good intentions.

Do all practices need to worry about pregnancy discrimination?

Basically, yes. While the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act applies to employers with 15 or more employees, many states have their own laws that extend protections to employees at smaller businesses. Pregnancy discrimination lawsuits against employers of all sizes are common—and almost no other type of lawsuit is so easy for the employee and her attorney to win.

To make matters more complicated, pregnancy discrimination protections aren’t just something you have to worry about only during an employee’s pregnancy. They also apply beforehand, when an employee is trying to become pregnant, and afterward, for any medical condition or situation related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Baby-bumps in the road: what counts as discrimination?

You probably know that you can’t fire or retaliate against an employee for any reason related to her pregnancy. It’s also illegal to force her to take leave, whether paid or unpaid, or make accommodations that she didn’t ask for, even if you’re concerned about her health (or your liability).

Take these well-meaning employer statements:

“I gave you fewer morning shifts on next month’s schedule, in case you’re not feeling well.”

“I’m going to need a doctor’s note before you can work. I know you said it’s OK, but I just want to make sure your doctor approves first.”

“I think it’ll be easier if we have you sit up front and handle patient intake until the baby is born.”

That’s correct – unsolicited by the mother, these can count as discrimination. But if the employee makes any of these requests herself, you may very well need to comply.

Making accommodations without discrimination

Your legal obligation is to treat pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions or circumstances like you would any other temporary disability, which includes making reasonable accommodations—when requested, or if she’s stated that she’s having difficulty.

See the double-edged sword here? If a pregnant employee requests an accommodation and you grant it, that’s fine. But if you indicate that you have decided something on behalf of her and her child, then that is pregnancy discrimination.

The final word: hers, not yours

Be warned, this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to safely navigating employee pregnancy. For one thing, you need language in your employee handbook and job descriptions that properly address any toxins in the workplace pregnant employees need to be aware of. You’ll want to have an HR expert review your maternity/parental leave policies, as well.

Legally, decisions about the work performed by your pregnant employee, her own safety, and that of her unborn or recently-born child are hers to make. If you try to help by making these decisions for her, no matter how noble your intentions, this is an area where no good deed goes unpunished.

Avoid the lawsuit. Let her choose.

Paul Edwards is the CEO of CEDR Solutions (, the nation’s leading provider of customized medical employee handbooks and expert HR support for practices of all sizes and specialties. He can be reached at 866-414-6056 or

The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager.









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