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How to Avoid Being Sued Over Pregnancy, Maternity

By Aditi Mukherji, JD | Last updated on

Being sued over maternity leave or a worker's pregnancy is an employer's nightmare, and can end up costing you in terms of money and time. How can you avoid such lawsuits in the first place?

Cases alleging pregnancy discrimination at work are more common than you may think, as are maternity-leave lawsuits. So this Mother's Day, business owners may want to give their maternal employees an incredibly useful gift: clear communication about maternity leave at your workplace. It's a gift that keeps on giving, since you'll be in a better position to avoid potential legal problems.

Here are a few suggestions to avoid getting sued over maternity leave or pregnancy discrimination:

  • Spell out your maternity leave policy in writing. Company maternity leave policies can get pretty complicated and confusing. To keep everyone on the same page, print your policies in a handbook. Summary charts and diagrams can be a boss' best friend. Also, it's wise to get employees to sign something saying they've read and understand your policies.
  • Document everything. Along with a clearly written and signed handbook, a great way to avoid lawsuits over maternity leave is to keep meticulous written records. Document which employees are on maternity leave, when they're set to return, and any issues that may come up. Keeping good records is an effective way to prevent lawsuits because it keeps interactions transparent.
  • Don't violate maternity leave laws. If your employees are eligible for Family and Medical Leave Act, a new mother is guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid time off, in most cases. Financially strapped businesses should take note that there's no requirement to pay employees during that time. But many companies now offer paid and/or extended leave.
  • Don't violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Don't make derogatory comments about pregnant women or pregnancy, don't deny a promotion because a woman is pregnant, and don't reduce responsibilities against a pregnant employee's wishes. Not only are these actions rude, they're also illegal.
  • Be careful if you're firing workers. It's against the law to fire an employee for getting pregnant or asking for maternity leave. Employers can't dismiss employees for any complications that require them to miss work in connection with having a child, though it's unclear if postpartum depression counts.

Laws about pregnancy discrimination and maternity leave can get complicated, and every situation is unique. To get legal advice on a specific issue, or if you're being sued over maternity leave, you may want to consult an experienced employment-law attorney near you.

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