Performing Job Duties
A healthy pregnancy is not a disability until shortly before birth and several weeks after, or when dictated by the woman's physician. Usually, normal work duties can be performed during the duration of the pregnancy. However, the pregnant employee may be unable to perform her usual job duties if the work is physically challenging. Everyone's situation and physical condition are unique and should be treated as such. For example, one woman may be able to work until the day she gives birth, yet another may not be able to perform any of the work past the fifth month of pregnancy. Someone else may be able to work through the pregnancy if her job duties are modified. Maybe she can vacuum and clean the bathroom and kitchen sinks, but can't stoop down to make beds or clean the bathtub. Splitting the duties or working with a partner may allow her to continue working.
Pregnancy is a temporary condition and restrictions should be accommodated, if possible, the same as they would for a nonpregnant person. If the employee wants to continue working and there is a way to make it happen, employers are expected to make a reasonable effort to comply. You may receive some slack from another employee who feels that the pregnant worker is not pulling her fair share. This uncompassionate view of the situation is unfortunate, but don't let the person sway you. Let her know that if she ever has the need for modified work duties due to a medical condition, she will be taken care of, too. This may be a good time for a talk about the meaning of teamwork.
When an employee announces her pregnancy, treat it as the happy time that it really is. You may immediately start to wonder who will take over her job duties when she is on maternity leave, but this is not an issue to consider right now. Celebrate the joy with her.
This doesn't mean that if accommodating a pregnancy is impossible you must come up with a Plan B. Sometimes there is no option for Plan B. If the employee says that she cannot physically perform a modified version of the job and there is no other work available, she may have to start a leave of absence early.
It should be up to the employee whether or not she is capable of working while pregnant. If a pregnant employee says that she is unable to work, send her to her health-care provider with a copy of her job description for the protection of both you and the employee. Let her and her doctor decide together if she should be excused from work. If this is the case, get it in writing to help avoid a discrimination complaint. Your concern is for the safety of the employee and the baby, but you want to back up the reason she has stopped working as well. If her time away from work will be lengthy and you are unable to hold a job open for her, consult with legal counsel or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before terminating the employment if she does not resign.
If a pregnant employee is visibly struggling and you have concerns about her health and safety, you have the right to ask for a note from her doctor detailing what she is able to do. Get specifics on things like how much she may lift and how long she may be on her feet.
Women who work at desk jobs may need help getting through the day, too. Sitting all day can be difficult and uncomfortable for a pregnant woman. She may need additional back support for her chair. A backrest can be purchased at an office supply store for her comfort. Sometimes, bringing a pillow from home to support the lower back will do the trick. Many pregnant women have a problem with their feet swelling by the end of the day. Using a stool throughout the day to keep knees elevated usually helps, or she may need to prop up her legs under her desk. She should be encouraged to get up and down throughout the day to keep circulation flowing. These are simple, inexpensive solutions to help keep a woman comfortable during the last few months of pregnancy.
The beginning of a pregnancy can be the biggest challenge for some women. If morning sickness is severe, the dehydration and dizziness associated with the excessive nausea is something that she should see her doctor about. Be compassionate and ask her what she needs from you to get through this difficult time. This period is usually short-lived, although in rare cases a woman may feel ill during the entire pregnancy. In extreme cases, hospitalization may occur in the early weeks of pregnancy due to dehydration or excessive weight loss, or she may simply need some time off work.
If a woman's pregnancy has a difficult start, this doesn't mean that she will have problems throughout her pregnancy. The first and last trimesters are the most difficult for some women. Take it day by day, and remember that the health of the mother and baby are what is most important.