Expectant Mothers In the Workforce during COVID-19
While the Coronavirus Pandemic is challenging for us all, expecting mothers find themselves in a uniquely difficult position. Pregnancy is enough to make any woman nervous; pregnancy in the midst of a pandemic while being pressured to work in a potentially dangerous workplace is another thing altogether.
Although mother-to-child transmission of coronavirus during pregnancy is unlikely, there are still legitimate risks for women and their future children. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, pregnant women should take the following steps to reduce their risk of infection:
- washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- cleaning hands with a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol if you can’t wash them (rub until your hands feel dry)
- avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- staying home as much as possible
- staying at least 6 feet away from other people if you need to go out
- avoiding people who are sick
At the KJC Law Firm, we realize that for many women, these steps are not enough, especially in the workplace with all sorts of people coming and going. For all working mothers concerned for the physical wellbeing of themselves and their children through workplace exposure to COVID-19, here are the basic legal principles to keep in mind:
- M.G.L. c. 151B prohibits any discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and provides that an employer is legally obligated in a situation like Covid-19 to extend reasonable accommodations to its employee (such as working remotely), or, at the very least, engage in a reasonable accommodation dialogue.
- M.G.L. c. 151B also expressly prohibits any acts of retaliation against an employee who relies on her rights under the law and engages in a reasonable accommodation dialogue with her employer. Retaliation has been defined to include a wide array of adverse employment actions, including but not limited to a reduction in hours, reduction in pay, reduction in benefits (such as health insurance), and/or termination.
- When it comes to maternity leave, a person working from home has as much right to maternity leave as a person working at the workplace. The length of time someone works remotely has nothing to do with the length of their parental leave; one has nothing to do with the other. The length of parental leave is guaranteed by either an employer’s own policies or, where there is no specific written policy, the law itself.
Ultimately, if you can perform the essential functions of your job from home (e.g. using a telephone and a computer) and your doctor is advising you to stay home for health reasons, the law says you should be permitted to work from home. During this pandemic, widespread office closures have shown that most work can be completed remotely. If your employer is resisting your request to work from home during this pandemic, contact us immediately. No pregnant woman should ever be forced to choose between their livelihood and the safety of their family.