Over the last year and a half, remote work policies have been turned on their head for most businesses. Companies that wouldn’t dream of allowing remote work have done so en-masse during lockdown periods. Companies with remote work policies have expanded those policies for long-term remote work and employee safety. However, one of the unforeseen side-effects of these new remote policies is how they affect pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.
We already know that pregnancy discrimination – while often well-meaning – is an ongoing battle in many workplaces. In the past, light work and denied opportunities were the hallmark of pregnancy discrimination. Now, with remote work in the spotlight, new forms of discrimination, well-meaning or otherwise, have risen to the surface.
We’re taking a closer look at how remote work, COVID safety, and pregnancy discrimination can be spotted and handled in the modern work environment. If you, a friend, or a coworker are currently facing remote work pregnancy challenges, these insights may help protect those essential employee rights.
Employers Cannot Keep Pregnant Employees Furloughed Longer
Many employers are slowly bringing back teams from furlough and remote work arrangements as workplace COVID safety becomes possible. The order they bring people back is almost up to their discretion – provided no discrimination is evident. However, if a pattern emerges where pregnant or disabled employees are kept at home longer than their peers, this can be a clear sign of pregnancy discrimination. It can also result in the traditional denial of opportunities and wages for pregnant employees.
Employers Cannot Prevent Pregnant Employees from Returning to Work with Their Team
If a team includes a pregnant employee, all members of the team should return from remote work at the same time. Keeping only the pregnant employee working remotely (without private consultation and agreement) is an illegal form of pregnancy discrimination. If your team is returning to work but your boss asks you to remain at home, this is a form of unequal treatment that is likely based on your pregnant condition.
Employers Cannot Deny Pregnant Employees Remote Work that is Available to Others
Along the same lines, employers cannot deny requested remote work to pregnant employees when approval has been given to others of similar roles or performance. Some employers may feel that a pregnant employee is more productive in the office, or safer under a manager’s watchful eye. However, this is not their decision to make. If current remote work policies allow for requested time worked remotely under existing conditions, then pregnancy should not play a role in remote work approval or denial.
Employers Must Provide Reasonable Safety Accommodations On Request for Pregnant Employees
While employers are not allowed to single out a pregnant employee to treat more or less safely, they are obligated to respond to accommodation requests. If you are worried that you are more susceptible to respiratory illness while pregnant (a medical fact), you may request remote work or a more isolated office during your pregnancy. As long as accommodation is reasonable and achievable, your employer should provide additional safety precautions to pregnant employees who make this request.
Employers Cannot Change Remote Work Policies In Response to Employee Pregnancy
Lastly, watch out for new policies written in response to pregnant employees or requests made by pregnant employees. For example, an employer might keep a pregnant employee’s entire team working remotely – while bringing all other similar teams back into the office. Or they may change the remote work approval policies right after a pregnant employee makes their request for remote or in-office work. Sudden changes in policy that directly affect a pregnant employee can also be a sign of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.
Most employers inherently want to protect a pregnant employee – even to that employee’s disadvantage. Some less reputable employees may distrust pregnancy and treat pregnant employees with greater suspicion or assumption of lowered capacity – even if their role is not affected by the physical condition of pregnancy. Whethre you are facing hostile or well-meaning pregnancy discrimination in terms of remote work and workplace safety, this type of discrimination is still illegal and can negatively impact your career if allowed to continue.
You can trust the Aiman-Smith and Marcy team to be on your side in finding the right solution to pregnancy discrimination in your workplace. Whether the discrimination is directed at you or someone you know, contact us for a no-obligation consultation on how to protect pregnant employee rights in the age of remote work and workplace viral safety.