Pregnancy discrimination lawsuits are on the rise, leaving some businesses wondering how to respond.
As businesses across the country begin to reopen, lawsuits pertaining to pregnancy discrimination are on the rise. For those who don’t know, COVID-19 poses a certain “elevated immune and respiratory risk to the mother and child,” one of the reasons why there has been a growing trend of lawsuits filed by pregnant workers from New York to California and everywhere between.
For example, one suit was recently filed by a pregnant employee in California over allegations that an employer failed to reasonably accommodate her during the coronavirus quarantine. Not long after requesting accommodation “due to the high-risk factors of exposure to COVID-19 as a pregnant woman,” the employee was allegedly terminated.
In another case filed in New Jersey, a pregnant employee was allegedly terminated soon after she declined to “work a shift that would require her to work directly with COVID-19 patients.” In that incident, the employees knew of her pregnancy “and had a note from the doctor explaining how she should be allowed to refrain from treating COVID-19 patients.” Another case in New Jersey involved a pregnant employee being terminated just before her “FMLA eligibility date to avoid accommodating her until that date.” Then in another New Jersey case, a pregnant employee asked “to be furloughed due to how many fellow employees were COVID-19 positive.” Her request was denied and she was placed in a new position, only to be terminated shortly afterward. In Texas, a suit was filed in June over claims that a pregnant employee was fired “after being furloughed when almost all other employees returned to their position.”
In each of these cases, the plaintiffs made requests for furloughs or accommodations because they were at an increased risk of COVID-19 complications due to their pregnancies. Additionally, in every case, the pregnant employees were “eventually terminated after they requested options for leave,” according to the suit.
With these lawsuits being filed left and right, how should businesses respond? What can be done to prevent additional suits? For starters, businesses and employers should be quick to respond to employees “requesting time off due to a COVID-19 related issue, or otherwise requesting an accommodation due to COVID-19 or another underlying health condition, such as pregnancy.” One way employers can accommodate these employees is to treat requests to continue working from home as a “possible request for a reasonable accommodation.” To help manage these delicate situations and requests, businesses may want to consider assigning an individual to “whom requests can be directed and can make sure they are responded to in a timely, and consistent, manner.”
There are a number of ways businesses can manage requests for accommodation from employees. In this new COVID-19 world, employers should be ready for lawsuits not only over allegations of pregnancy discrimination, but over many other things as more and more people re-enter the workforce.