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March 10, 2009

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Dear HR Guy:

What can be done if there is continual negative comments and reference to an employee's pregnancy and how it "might" complicate their job responsibilities as the pregnancy progresses as well as continual pressure to commit to returning to work 2 weeks after giving birth. Note that the pregnancy has not in any week detracted from the employee's performance to date nor has the employee taken any days off due to pregnancy related issues. Also, the printed company policies were recently changed to reflect new limitations on pregnancy leave, i.e. earned vacation time can not be used now towards maternity leave time (there is no paid maternity leave). Note that there are 12-14 employees in this office so many federal mandates do not apply. Hope you can help as the employee's stress level is rising daily.

Jeff

Dear Jeff:

You're right. Because your company has less than 50 employees it is not subject to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which would set forth specific protections for this woman. The courts just couldn't justify making tiny businesses having to adhere to regulations that could jeopardize their continued existence.Your specific state may, however, have regulations that apply to your company. Vermont, for example, affords protection to employees of companies of 15 or more employees.

But Jeff, what we have here is something more simple - discrimination. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) states that it is gender discrimination to treat an employee differently because of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. You must treat pregnant employees the same way you treat any other employees who have medical conditions that restrict their ability to work.

As for the disparaging comments, well, it sounds like this employee may have grounds for a harassment lawsuit. But that's between her, her conscience and her attorney.

As a final point, it is illegal for an employer to tell an employee that they cannot use accrued vacation time for pregnancy leave. Fine - don't call it pregnancy leave. Just schedule a vacation during which you happen to deliver a baby... The accrued vacation time is the employee's time off and the employer should respect that.

It sounds like this employer is quite a monster when it comes to employee relations. If I were you, I'd get my resume together and get out. There are plenty of employers out there that will respect your right to a personal life. Find one.

HR Guy

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Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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