Maternity leave laws cover a broad variety of medical conditions

by on June 23, 2009 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Info Center

Post-birth mental distress can be covered under maternity leave laws

Maternity leave laws like FMLA say you can’t discriminate against pregnant employees. But according to a new federal court decision, you may have to be more careful how you treat them, lest they sue for emotional distress – and win big.

The worker in this recent Illinois case got a whopping $500,000 jury award for pain and suffering, medical care, and front and back pay.

She felt that her supervisor, knowing she was pregnant, pushed her too hard, making her climb a rickety stairway to a mezzanine level where she had to crawl under desks to install computer equipment. She claimed her computer was sabotaged and her office moved so she couldn’t locate essential paperwork. On top of that, the supervisor gave her what she perceived to be an impossible mountain of work, and fired her when she couldn’t do it all.

She successfully sued for intentional infliction of emotional distress under FMLA maternity leave laws.

The court said the jury was allowed to consider the fact that the worker was “particularly susceptible” to distress because of her pregnancy.

In this case, the courts ruled that a demanding boss went too far. But all companies have demanding bosses, and employees don’t always agree what’s reasonable and what’s not.

This case teaches us that criticism and discipline that might be appropriate for a male worker, or a non-pregnant female one, could be seen as inflicting an unacceptable level of distress on a pregnant colleague.

One bright spot: Infliction of emotional distress is tough to prove under FMLA maternity leave laws. The court here noted many distressing things happen in the workplace, but aren’t illegal. But it appears it’s easier for a pregnant worker to make a case.

Cite: Naeem v. McKesson Drug Co., No. 04-3816, 7th Cir., 4/12/06.

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