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Maybe I'm Being Paranoid, But... Florida

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  • Maybe I'm Being Paranoid, But... Florida

    Hello everyone!

    Ok, so today I received a notice from one of our housekeepers that she is expecting a baby (extremely early stages, baby not due until November). All fine, she has been employed since November last year so by the time we are looking at her going on leave she will most likely be eligible for FMLA leave, and even if she isn't, we have a separate leave policy in place anyway.

    So, what's the problem? Well, also today, I find out that she is telling everyone in the office who will listen all about her situation including saying "we can't fire a pregnant employee". I should point out that so far we've had no issues with this employee, and no reason at all to consider terminating her employment. She is also expressing concern about working around chemicals - I agree with her concern here and have already instructed our H&S Manager to carry out a risk assessment - as well as saying there are a number of tasks she is no longer able to do.

    Now maybe I'm being cynical or paranoid but I want to be sure I have a surefire plan in place just in case she is plotting something for further down the line. Can I reasonably ask her to provide a doctor note saying which aspects of the work she is not able to do? Should I sit her down and confront her? I don't want to add fuel to a potential fire. I just get the feeling that she is looking for a way to garner some kind of payout or a longer time off work?

    Any advice you can give would be super helpful. Even if FMLA doesn't apply, I don't want to fall foul of any ADA or Pregnancy laws.

    Thanks so much!

  • #2
    First step: sit her down and ask her directly and specifically why she thinks she's going to be fired for being pregnant. Her answer will probably give you an idea of what your next step should be. (And if it doesn't, you can always come back here and ask for more help. )

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    • #3
      Remember that the employee can work normally until she asks the manager for an accommodation or until it becomes clear that she is having difficulty. Who is she expressing concern to? I agree with doing a Risk Assessment of chemicals/tools/duties, etc. but not to make assumptions on what she can and cannot do. Check with OSHA regulations on the chemicals, etc.

      Provide a job description along with a list of chemicals that she works with for her to give to her doctor for their review and ideas on modifications if she is already concerned. She might be able to do most of the tasks with modifications (face mask, substitute product, etc). Require documentation for any accommodation, just as you would for anyone with any medical issue. Keep the discussions interactive such that you are working with her rather than against her and could prove that if needed in a lawsuit, explore all possible accommodations and choose the best one for the employee and employer. Once the accommodation is implemented, monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed.

      Here is a short list from JAN about possible accommodations:
      "According to the U.S. Department of Laborís Job Accommodation Network (JAN), which provides resources to employers on accommodating workers with disabilities, accommodation ideas include:
      Strategies to meet physical demands, such as lifting aids, temporary reassignment of duties, reserved parking, stools, ergonomic chairs, reassignment to less physically demanding jobs, and alternate workstations.
      Schedule shifts, such as flexible arrival time; periodic rest, food, water and bathroom breaks; telecommuting; a less physically demanding shift; limited overtime; and flexible use of leave.
      Policy modifications, such as exceptions to a dress code as well as relaxed "no food or drink" and "no-sitting" policies."

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      • #4
        Are the chemicals something that a non-pregnant employee should be around? Not my area of expertise, but we went through this in the 1980s. Reviewed pretty much everything toxic and over time eliminated most of it. We had guys in the shop who looked like NFL lineman wearing girdles and using jib cranes to move 15 pound packages. Basically eliminated our WC claims. A dangerous working environment is a dangerous working environment. Pregnancy is not necessary the trigger point.
        "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away".
        Philip K. **** (1928-1982)

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        • #5
          Everyone has given great advice on how to deal with the "disability" that will sooner or later raise its head in this case. But if she is going around saying "we can't fire a pregnant employee" I don't think that is where all the concern should be.

          If her actions start being a problem because she doesn't think you can fire her I'd strongly suggest a progressive discipline program.
          1. Documented Verbal Warnings.
          2. Written Warnings signed by the employee.
          3. Suspension
          4. Termination

          This can't stop her from filing an EEOC complaint but it will give you a defense that she wasn't fired because of the pregnancy. Also, if you have employed housekeepers for any length of time and I'd be surprised if some of them didn't become pregnant while they worked for you. You didn't fire them I assume so you could show you don't have a habit of terminating pregnant employee.

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          • #6
            Thanks everyone

            Thanks everyone,

            Good advice as always. Just to clarify, I'm not concerned about the modifications/accommodations we need to make, as Payroll Guy rightly assumed, we have had pregnant workers before (although surprisingly not in our housekeeping team) and have never had an issue - certainly none of them were fired!

            Like EERelations suggested, I guess my first step is to talk with her and find out why she thinks there is a possibility she will be fired when her work record to date has been fine and she has never been the subject of any disciplinary action.

            In relation to the chemicals she comes into contact with, it is nothing more serious than the usual cleaning materials you would find in any office e.g. bleach, floor cleaner, furniture polish etc. but because she sometimes goes into areas where we have manufacturing chemicals stored we automatically carry out a risk assessment even though she doesn't actually use the materials, in case we need to restrict her access to certain parts of the building.

            Thanks again for helping me sort my head out!

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