Employers Need Consistent Approach to Avoid Liability

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By Genevieve Douglas  

Although most employers know that pregnancy and gender discrimination are illegal, sex stereotyping and family responsibilities discrimination are still potential areas of risk, according to attorneys.

“I think for employers, it is recognized that it would be illegal to fire someone for a pregnancy,” said Tom Spiggle, founder of the Spiggle Law Firm in Arlington, Va., and author of the book, You're Pregnant? You're Fired: Protecting Mothers, Fathers, and Other Caregivers in the Workplace.

“But what a lot of employers do not realize is that sex stereotyping is illegal under Title VII [of the 1964 Civil Rights Act],” he told Bloomberg BNA March 7.

Spiggle cited as examples denying a promotion to a female employee who has just started a family or forcing a reduced workload on a pregnant worker.

Different Problems

One of the most common family responsibilities discrimination problems in the workplace is when male employees are sent strong messages that they are not expected to take more than a few days or weeks of paternity leave, when they are entitled to up to three months under the Family and Medical Leave Act, Joan Williams, distinguished professor of law and director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law, told Bloomberg BNA March 11.

Moreover, Williams said that it is common for women who are returning from maternity leave to not receive assignments immediately, or to not be included in big projects. Often, this amounts to “benevolent sexism.”

Williams said that employers must be clear with employees that they need to leave opinions about family life at home.

She recommended that employers train managers to refer anyone who needs FMLA leave to human resources. Not all supervisors will know the ins and outs of FMLA leave, she said. Consistency is the best approach regarding family leave, she added.


To contact the reporter on this story: Genevieve Douglas in Washington at gdouglas@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at snadel@bna.com

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