Suppose you have an employee who’s pregnant, and you start feeling sorry for her. After all, her job calls for a lot of standing, and, gee, it must be hard to stay on your feet with all that extra weight to bear.

So you decide to make things easier for her. “Sandy,” you say, “I’m going to take a few things off your plate. For one thing, you don’t have to do counter duty for the duration. I’ll get somebody else to handle that.”

And you wait expectantly for Sandy to acknowledge, with appropriate thanks, what a good guy you are.

No smiles
Except Sandy isn’t smiling. And she’s not thankful. “I didn’t ask for any favors,” she says. “Counter duty is part of my job. Are you trying to say I can’t do my job?”

Whoa. Have you just discovered that one of your employees is a miserable ingrate? Nope. You’ve encountered an employee who knows her rights. And, without knowing it, you’ve gone some way toward infringing those rights.

Pregnancy discrimination is sometimes easy to spot. If an employer fires an employee because she’s pregnant, or sends her home until her baby arrives, that’s pretty obvious. And we’d like to think you’re not the kind of employer who would do something like that.

But you can also commit pregnancy discrimination by trying to be accommodating of a condition that the person involved hasn’t asked you to accommodate. Don’t assume that a pregnant employee:

  • can’t do some or all of her job duties
  • shouldn’t be promoted
  • needs special handling compared to co-workers

Sure, if a pregnant employee asks for an accommodation, you can respond positively. The law says you should treat a pregnant employee who’s temporarily disabled the same way you would treat any other temporarily disabled employee. So you can offer short-term leave, or a substitute position, for instance.

At the end of the day, the thing to remember about pregnant employees is this: Treat them like comparable employees who aren’t pregnant; no better, no worse. That way you can’t go wrong.

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