A-list celebrity George Clooney, long considered Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor, surprised the world when he married international human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin back in 2014 after decades of assuring journalists, adoring fans, and a slew of ex-girlfriends that he would never, ever tie the knot a second time. Apparently, George also had a change of heart about becoming a father (which he also swore he would never, ever do) because he and his wife announced last week that they are expecting twins.
Among the rarified ranks of the world’s rich and famous, news of impending parenthood may prompt a full-time nanny search or, in the case of actresses who are expecting, some creative camera angles to conceal a growing baby bump. In the real world, however, the happy news that an employee is pregnant (or about to become a parent) can breed numerous HR challenges. To help you labor through this issue, here are a few tips for managing an employee’s burgeoning brood.
#1 – Do not discriminate
Pregnant applicants or employees must be treated fairly and cannot be subjected to special scrutiny because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the protection against pregnancy discrimination covers all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, and fringe benefits. As a result, an employer may not single out pregnant employees for special requirements when determining whether a pregnancy will impede the employee’s ability to do her job.
If an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, you should treat her in the same way as you would treat any other temporarily disabled employee. For example, you may have to provide light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave to pregnant employees if you do so for other temporarily disabled employees.
#2 – Accommodate pregnancy-related disabilities
Although most pregnancies do not implicate the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), some impairments resulting from pregnancy (for example, gestational diabetes or preeclampsia) may qualify as disabilities under the ADA. An employer must provide a reasonable accommodation (such as leave or modifications that enable an employee to perform her job) for a disability related to pregnancy, unless the employer can show that providing the accommodation would pose an undue hardship (i.e., significant difficulty or expense). Keep in mind that the 2008 amendments to the ADA greatly expanded the definition of disability, making it much easier for an employee to show that a medical condition is a covered disability. Therefore, you should carefully evaluate requests to accommodate a pregnant employee and engage in the interactive process under the ADA to determine what, if any, accommodations will enable the employee to perform her essential job duties.
#3 – Provide parental leave to eligible employees
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a new parent (including foster and adoptive parents) may be eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave that may be used for care of the new child. To be eligible, the employee must have worked for the employer for 12 months prior to taking the leave; worked at least 1,250 hours during the year prior to the start of the FMLA leave; and work at a location where at least 50 employees are employed at the location or within a 75-mile radius. Importantly, the FMLA provides leave for new fathers, as well as new mothers. Further, with few exceptions, upon return from FMLA leave, an employee must be restored to his or her original job, or to an equivalent job that is virtually identical to the original job in terms of pay, benefits, and other employment terms and conditions. In addition, an employee’s use of FMLA leave cannot result in the loss of any employment benefit that the employee earned or was entitled to before taking FMLA leave.
Whether you are a Clooney or a mere mortal who lives outside the glitterati bubble, expecting a bundle of joy is great news. As HR professionals, before you attend that baby shower or hedge your bets in the office baby pool, make sure to follow these tips to ensure you treat your employees fairly and don’t run afoul of the PDA, ADA, and FMLA.