The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 makes it illegal to force pregnant employees to resign from their jobs. The act also makes pregnancy a disability thereby prohibiting employers from denying medical benefits to pregnant women. It forces employers to evaluate pregnant women on their performance to do the job.
For some women, getting is career suicide. Employers shun women who get pregnant so they try to force them out. This is especially true of women who are on the fast track to the top and a top performing employee. It is morally reprehensible to be treating women as second class citizens just because they got pregnant. Are these employers stuck in the June Cleaver Mindset that a woman’s role is in the kitchen?
If a woman goes on maternity leave, they must be guaranteed their original position upon returning. For an example, let’s use the scene from the NBC hit show Friends. In this part of the episode, Rachel was already on maternity leave after giving birth to her daughter. She had two weeks left on maternity leave, and decided to pay a visit to her employer. Upon walking in to her office, she notices someone else working at her desk and working on a major project. The employee that was filling in said that if it wasn’t for him, this division would have been shut down. This would be an example of an insensitive and threatening statement towards the incumbent employee. She was getting the impression that the company may be forcing her out. She decided to end her maternity leave earlier than expected to alleviate fear of losing her job. This is a very common situation that pregnant women experience on the job. It is that fear that they may not have a job when they return, or that employers may look down on them.
There are two alternatives when dealing with a pregnant employee. The first alternative is to utilize a temporary employee, which is hiring professionals for projects without have the obligation to keep the person once the job is done. Using temporary employees adds flexibility to your existing workforce.
When using temporary employees, the employer must make the temp aware that this position is only temporary and that the assignment will terminate at a definite date, such as when the incumbent employee returns from maternity leave. Policies should also be in place and enforced so that the temp does not alter the workspace of the incumbent employee in any way, shape, or form. Typically employees that fill in for the incumbent in this type of situation will place the incumbent’s belongings into a box and shove it into the corner on the floor. You do not want to give any appearance that you are trying to squeeze out the incumbent from her job. This type of situation can cause a hostile work environment, which is one of the two types of sexual harassment as defined by the EEOC.
The second alternative is to set up the position using telecommuting. This should be the preferred alternative. As soon as the employee announces that she is pregnant, the employer should offer her the opportunity to work from her home in a more relaxed environment. The employer and the employee should work together to set up procedures that would allow her to continue performing her job duties from her home.
A happy employee is a more productive employee. The pregnant employee will be happy since she will be able to keep receiving a paycheck and will be assured on not losing her job. If this employee is one of your top performing employees, then the employer should do everything that is possible to want to keep this employee on your staff.
It is best for both the employer and employee to start planning a telecommuting assignment as soon as the employee announces that she is pregnant. You would want to create a seamless transition from the traditional workplace to the alternative workplace. For the employer, it presents to the community that this company cares about its employees. It also presents that this company has a family friendly environment. The telecommuting alternative provides a win-win situation for both employer and employee.
In times of hyper-competition and employees leaving an organization for bigger and better opportunities, timing and sincerity of such activities are crucial in trying to prevent a key employee from leaving. If you are an employer who is trying to keep your good workers from leaving, then go that extra mile to show them that they are valued contributors of your organization. The benefits, both short-term and long term, of retaining this valuable employee will surely outweigh any costs that are incurred.