Terminating a Pregnant Employee
Question: One of our new hires has already missed a significant amount of work, and we have been talking about terminating her employment for absenteeism. She told us today that she is pregnant and her medical condition is the reason for her absences. Can we still move forward with termination?
Answer: While it might seem to be a simple decision to terminate employment for a new employee who has been unreliable and missed a lot of work, consult with your legal counsel prior to taking any form of disciplinary action. Pregnancy is protected under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and expands unlawful sex discrimination to include pregnancy, childbirth, and pregnancy-related medical conditions. The PDA provides that an employer may not refuse to hire, terminate, or otherwise discriminate against a pregnant employee and must treat her the same way the employer treats other temporarily disabled employees. Some states offer additional protection for pregnant employees.
As you consider terminating her employment, reflect on the reasons why you hired her and the training you have already provided to onboard her to the job and your company. Think about working with her to see if there might be some temporary changes you could make to help her work a regular schedule, such as adjusting her hours to later in the morning if she is currently suffering with morning sickness. The key is to give her the same kind of consideration you might give another employee suffering with a temporarily disabling condition before resorting to employment termination. If there are other reasons besides these attendance issues that are causing you to contemplate terminating employment, be sure that you have documentation detailing how her performance is falling short of expectations and what training and coaching you have provided to help her be successful. Consult with your labor attorney prior to taking action.
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