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This week, two women filed a federal, class action lawsuit against AT&T 's mobile phone subsidiary, AT&T Mobility, claiming the company's attendance policy violates both the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. The case could have national implications for employers and the legal boundaries of demerit-based attendance policies like AT&T's.
It can be difficult putting together family leave policies for employees in general, and especially for pregnant employees or those on maternity leave. How do you treat all employees equally? How do you make sure all the work gets done? And how do you avoid getting sued for pregnancy discrimination?
Hopefully you already know that you can't discriminate against an employee based on pregnancy. That starts during the interview process and continues through maternity leave. But what does pregnancy discrimination actually entail, and how do you avoid it?
The first place to look for the rules on pregnant employees are federal, state, and local statutes. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act are good starting points, but don't forget about state pregnancy disability statutes or local breastfeeding-at-work laws.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also has guidelines for employers, including lactation breaks and a ban on forced leave during an employee's pregnancy. And if you violate a federal employment law, it's generally the EEOC who shows up at your door with a lawsuit.
Beyond the statutes and EEOC guidelines, there are some general rules employers should follow regarding pregnant employees. These include providing reasonable accommodations; equal treatment regarding training, work assignment, and promotion; and preventing pregnancy-based harassment at work.
Clearly, the easiest way to avoid a pregnancy or maternity discrimination lawsuit is to treat all pregnant employees and new mothers equally. But a seemingly gender-neutral attendance policy can result in de facto discrimination against pregnant employees, leading to legal action.
If you have more pregnancy discrimination-related questions or want legal advice in crafting your business's attendance policy, contact an experienced employment attorney in your area.
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