HEALTH CARE: What to expect from your boss when you’re expecting

According to a research report from the National Institute ofOccupational Safety and Health, three quarters of the women in thenation’s workforce are of child-bearing age and more than half of thechildren born in the U.S. are born to working mothers. This raisesserious issues over a safe work environment for the mother, theprotection of her civil rights and the maintenance of a healthypregnancy.

Unfortunately, in the past, pregnancy has been used as a pretextfor employers to demote or fire pregnant women from their positions.George Thompson, an attorney with Thompson, O’Neil and Vanderveen inTraverse City, says that laws governing these issues are in a stateof flux.

Nevertheless, there is a legal precedence that protects a pregnantwoman under the Americans With Disabilities Act. Only small businesses with less than 15 employees are exempt from complying.

This act requires employers to make reasonable accommodations tothe known physical or mental limitations of a qualified applicant oremployee, unless such accommodation would impose an undue hardship onthe employer. In addition to other concerns, reasonableaccommodations include modifying work schedules and restructuringjobs.

Traverse City attorney Grant Parsons says that in these cases therights of the employer and the employee are a delicate balancing act.However, “protecting the rights of pregnant women makes good socialpolicy and sound economic sense,” he added.

Pregnancy is a short-term condition and unless an employer canprove undue burden, common sense dictates that retaining a pregnantemployee is more socially and fiscally responsible, even when theemployer has to make adjustments to protect the mother and health ofthe baby, Parsons said.

Because of discrimination issues and the ADA protection, MIOSHA,the Michigan Occupation Safety and Health Administration, does notissue work site safety warnings specific to pregnant women.

Pregnant women are, however, protected and informed of potentialhazards under the umbrella of safety standards issued for allemployees.

When a working woman discovers she is pregnant, she should firstconsult her health care provider. Peg Dunn, a Certified Nurse Midwifewith New Life Nurse-Midwifery Service in Traverse City, says anarticle in the April 20, 1984 Journal of American Medicine entitled”Effects of Pregnancy and Work” sets the guidelines for work-relatedconditions of which pregnant women need to be aware.

Dunn says almost any type of employment has some considerationsfor pregnant women. At a desk job, it’s not good for an expectantmother to sit too long. Conversely, an expectant mother working inthe retail industry shouldn’t stand on her feet constantly.

Dunn advises many of her patients to take frequent breaks andchange positions during the work day and to drink plenty ofwater.

Other considerations a pregnant woman might want to discuss withher health care provider include excessive job stress, extreme noiselevels in the work environment and the possible exposure to toxicmaterials.

While an expectant mother should be well informed of potentialrisks and take precautions, Dunn assures that the body is amazing atprotecting the unborn baby and the placenta is an incredible filterthat keeps the baby safe from many toxins.

Once a pregnant woman has discussed the issues germane to herhealth and her work environment with her health care provider, sheshould consider speaking with the company personnel director to voiceany concerns about her work situation or modifications she needs tomake in her work assignments. Most often, an employer will want anote from the employee’s health care provider outlining thesemodifications.

Mark Guy, Human Resources Executive at Eagle-Picher Trim Division,a manufacturer of automotive interior soft trim in Kalkaska, says anexpectant mother is treated no differently than any other employee atthe company.

Guy points out that as long as the woman can do her work and wantsto continue to work, the company supports her.

“It is totally her call,” he says.

If it’s determined the job poses a threat to the health of themother or baby, a note from the employee’s health care provider issufficient to take the woman off of her job with no threat to herposition in the company.

Plante and Moran LLP, a Traverse City CPA firm, has won severalawards for their policies concerning working mothers.

Brenda Redman, office administrator feels the company’s success inthis area is based on the fact that there is no “blanket policy”concerning pregnant employees.

“We treat each employee on an individual basis,” says Redman.

The company is extremely flexible with sick time and they tailorwork arrangements for each woman based on her individual healthconcerns and needs.

You can find reports and studies on work environment and pregnancyat the Centers For Disease Control and National Institute of Safetyand Health on line: www.cdc.gov/niosh.

Go to www.smartbiz.com/sbs/arts/ada1.htm for more information onthe Americans With Disabilities Act. BIZNEWS

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