Women Today

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Be safe, healthy and happy in the workplace while pregnant

Congratulations, you are pregnant. The next several months are certain to include many changes as you prepare for the arrival of your child. Whether you have been pregnant before or are about to become a mom for the first time, each experience is unique. And while dealing with the unexpected is part of being pregnant, pregnant women should expect their employers to treat them fairly as they continue to work.

The first thing pregnant working women should know is that they have the right to work while pregnant. In the United States, it has been illegal to discriminate against pregnant women in the workplace since 1978, when the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed. Canadian women also have similar rights under the Canadian Human Rights Act. But in spite of those laws, some employers may be less receptive to their female employees' pregnancies, with some insisting they harbor good intentions, such as the woman's safety. Businesses cannot fire employees for being pregnant, and many courts have ruled that decisions about the safety of the woman and fetus are up to the employee and her doctor, not her boss. On the same token, a company cannot refuse to hire a person simply because she's pregnant.

While pregnancy is a natural occurrence and one female bodies can accommodate, in some instances, work requirements may threaten the safety or the health of the fetus. Therefore, employers are under a duty to accommodate female workers who may need to modify their duties due to their pregnancies. This can be a collaborative discussion, with both the employer and employee coming to a solution that works best for them. It is the employer's responsibility to accommodate pregnant employees by removing barriers that may limit those employees' ability to do their jobs. Each instance should be looked at individually.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, women in the United States are entitled to 12 weeks maternity leave. Women can choose to use a portion of that maternity leave even before their children are born if physical limitations are making it challenging for them to continue working. Women should put their health and the safety of their unborn children ahead of their responsibilities at work. In addition, women should not hesitate to speak with their employers about their comfort levels while pregnant. If an issue arises, speak with your boss, who deserves the benefit of the doubt.

In some instances, breastfeeding also is protected by law at job sites or at the office. It is best for women to familiarize themselves with breastfeeding policies ahead of time so they can make the proper accommodations.

Pregnant women should discuss with their doctors which work activities are permissable and which should be avoided at particular times in the pregnancy. Every effort should be made to avoid toxic substances, and pregnant women should not lift heavy items or engage in any potentially risky physical activity. For more information about workplace rights, visit the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at www.eeoc.gov or the Canadian Human Rights Commission at www.chrc-ccdp.ca.

Osceola News-Gazette