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New rules for pregnant workers

Pregnant employees are entitled to certain rights under a federal law called the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This law can sometimes be confusing. Recently, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued guidelines designed to clarify how the law applies to workers and employers.

Here are some highlights:

  • The law prohibits discrimination against workers who are pregnant, but it also prohibits discrimination against workers based on their having been pregnant in the past or their possibly becoming pregnant in the future. Among other things, this means that it might be illegal for a business to ask questions of a job candidate designed to probe whether the candidate has children or plans to have children in the future.
  • A business cannot force a worker to take leave just because she is pregnant. A business can force a pregnant worker to take leave only if the pregnancy makes her unable to do her job.
  • Only women can take leave for pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. However, if an employee offers parental leave to women after childbirth, it must also offer parental leave to men on the same terms.
  • An employer has to treat a pregnant employee who is temporarily unable to do her job the same way it would treat a non-pregnant employee who was temporarily unable to do a job. This means that if other employees would be given a temporary light-duty assignment (say, as a result of an on-the-job injury), then similar accommodations must be made for pregnant employees.
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