I am sure you have all heard by now about the $8.7+ million award against The Price Is Right in a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit filed by one of the show's models, Brandi Cochran. A summary of the lawsuit appears after the jump.
As I've previously reported, pregnancy discrimination is one of those hot issues for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. TPIR may really discriminate against pregnant models -- I don't know. I think it's a sticky issue where you have employees whose entire stock in trade is their looks. But the case still has good lessons for employers on how to deal with pregnancy. By following a few simple rules of etiquette, an employer is unlikely to ever get a pregnancy discrimination claim, and the ones it does get will probably be dismissed quickly. Here they are:
1. Pregnancy is always good news. Always, always, always. No matter what her occupation, no matter how much it will inconvenience you to have her take 6-12 weeks off for maternity leave, no matter what her marital or relationship status, no matter how many kids she already has versus how many you think is an appropriate and tasteful number. By the time she tells you, her boss, about it, you can be sure it is good news to her and must be treated by you as such. Twins are doubly good news. Triplets are triply good news. And so on and so forth. The more babies, the better. No matter what you really think.
2. All right, one little exception. If you can't trust me on No. 1, then you may gently ask her upon hearing the news, "Is that okay with you?" When she answers yes, then go back to No. 1. In the highly unlikely event that she tells you no, be kind and sympathetic, and assure her that everything will be just great and that she will feel so much better when her little bundle arrives. Do not under any circumstances say -- or even agree with her if she says -- that getting pregnant was stupid, that she will look like a whale in a few months, or that things at work really would be a lot easier if she had stayed childless or stayed put with the kids she already had.
3. Never suggest that she has "other options," much less ask her to pursue them. Yes, there are pregnancy discrimination cases where employers allegedly did this. Astounding! On the other hand, at least one employer has gotten in trouble for counseling against "options" and then terminating the employee after she "exercised" them. That, too, was a form of pregnancy discrimination, the court said.
4. Don't ever tease her about being big. I know you don't mean anything by it, and you probably think she looks cute with that basketball under her shirt, but she will not take it that way. This is especially true if, like Ms. Cochran, her career is all about having the figure of a Barbie doll. The only things you are allowed to say about her looks is that she is "beautiful" or "radiant." (Note to men -- beware of sexual harassment if you're too positive about her appearance.)
"Barbie, you are looking especially radiant today!"
5. Don't pat her on the belly unless you are a member of her immediate family. That is an invasion of her personal space. (Also, the baby's.)
6. A miscarriage is always a tragedy. A stillborn birth is even worse. Like, at least 1,000 times worse. Don't ever say it's "for the best" or anything else to that effect. Even if she shared with you that she didn't want to be pregnant in the first place. The only permissible response is "I am so very, very sorry. What can I do?" Flowers sent to her home and a handwritten note of sympathy would also be appreciated.
7. You are always delighted to have her back at work when she returns. In her same job, with the same pay and perks and opportunities for advancement that she had before, plus lactation accommodation if needed. If you discovered while she was on maternity leave that she was stealing from petty cash and had not done a lick of work in six months, then you may qualify for an exception to this rule, but consult in advance with your employment counsel to make sure you are on solid legal ground.
8. Needless to say, the baby is always adorable*. The only babies cuter than hers were your own when they were that age, but of course you are biased.
*I have no trouble with this because I sincerely do think babies are adorable. But not everyone feels that way.
9. If your organization is affiliated with a religion or denomination that considers the pregnancy to be evidence of immoral behavior (usually because out of wedlock), you may or may not be able to take action against her, but make sure you are equally tough on similarly situated men. (And please note that guys do not have to be pregnant to be "similarly situated." They are similarly situated if they you-know-what outside of the bonds of Holy Matrimony.)
10. Of course she is welcome to bring the baby to work, as long as the work environment would be safe and the baby would not disrupt her work or the work of others. She's also welcome to have a flexible schedule or to telecommute, if the job lends itself to that and she's been a reliable employee.
Read on for a recap of the TPIR lawsuit . . .