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Pregnant UPS Drivers, Breastfeeding and Mooing Employees: HR in the Headlines

Posted on: January 8th, 2015 | Category: Employee Relations, Government Regulatory & Compliance Issues, HR Documentation, Human Resources, Our Blog

myHR Blog pregnancy nursing harassment discrimination - myHR PartnerMotherhood has made human resources headlines lately, and employers everywhere are watching how two interesting stories unfold. The first involves a much-publicized case coming before the Supreme Court regarding a pregnant UPS delivery person who was fired. The second involves a breastfeeding mom who claimed coworkers harassed her about expressing milk in a private room during work hours.

According to an excellent article by National Public Radio (NPR), at issue before the Supreme Court is the interpretation of the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Specifically, whether that law permits companies to suspend pregnant workers under a “facially neutral policy” (a policy that does not single out a certain protected class of employee on its face for unfavorable treatment) regarding temporary disabilities that are not incurred during work hours or caused by work activities. Is pregnancy a protected class of temporary disability in workplaces that do not, across the board, accommodate for injuries sustained outside of work? What constitutes reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers versus other temporarily disabled employees?

There are strong feelings on both sides of the issue, and the lower courts and Supreme Court Justices have varying interpretations of the law. According to NPR:

“You’re calling for ‘most favored nation treatment,’ for pregnant employees,” Justice Antonin Scalia retorted, meaning if you give a benefit “to any other class of employees” you have to give it to the pregnant worker too.

 

That prompted Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, later on, to remark that the UPS’s policy amounted instead to “least favored” status for pregnant workers…

Businesses and HR professionals will be watching and waiting for the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding this issue in the months ahead.

Surprise! “Mooing” a Lactating Coworker Is a Bad Idea.

The other motherhood-related case making headlines recently involves harassment of a nursing mother by her coworkers in Oregon, and it isn’t so much about how to interpret existing laws as it is a cautionary tale about inappropriate behavior in the workplace. While the case was settled out of court, it cost the company involved dearly both financially and in terms of brand damage. We can only imagine the effects on morale and employee engagement that management had to deal with internally in the aftermath.

People recently profiled the 2014 case, in which a nursing mother was “mooed” and otherwise ridiculed by her coworkers for pumping breast milk during the workday. From the article:

In the complaint filed with Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries, Monica Van De Pitte alleged that a co-worker at Velocitel, Inc., a wireless network services company that builds cell phone towers, also taped a picture of a cow mooing to the door of the supply room where she and another nursing mother were forced to pump.

 

In papers obtained by PEOPLE, Van De Pitte claims the harassment at the Lake Oswego location was so hurtful that she “struggled to compose herself enough to express any milk once inside the room.”

The complaint, according to the magazine article, went on to describe how one coworker regularly boasted about his sexual life and demeaned women by pretending to “honk” their breasts, and when Van De Pitte complained to her bosses about this behavior, she was told by one supervisor that what she really needed to do was to reflect personally on why such conversations made her uncomfortable.

Good grief! There are much better ways to handle that kind of situation.

As we discussed back in November, harassment and discrimination claims should not be taken as lightly as they often are. “It is important for managers and executives to realize that how they react to a harassment claim, whether they think it is merited or not, becomes part of the issue itself,” says Tina Hamilton, PHR, president of myHR Partner. “As soon as an incident or situation is brought to your attention, you are on record yourself. That’s why it is critical to know how to respond to such scenarios properly.”

Before an incident occurs, providing training to your management team about what constitutes harassment and discrimination and how to react to complaints is something every business should do. And of course, compiling and reviewing all related documents (including social media posts, emails, and text messages), preventing retaliation and taking steps to reasonably keep the accuser and accused from interacting on the job if a complaint is filed are also important steps to take.

Make Sure Your Managers Are Well Trained!

myHR Partner has a wide range of training offerings that will help you educate your managers so that they can play a pivotal role in protecting your organization and its brand. Beyond good for business, some states, like California, require annual or periodic harassment training as well. We can also help you access your current policies and practices to make sure your organization is prepare to handle complaints that might come in the future.

Whether you are looking for workshops on harassment and documentation, or some other HR need, our team is ready to assist you. Click here for more on our dynamic and customizable training programs.

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