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Q&A: Can I ask an employee if they’re pregnant?

We recommend you not ask an employee if they’re pregnant and, instead, wait for them to inform you. With few exceptions, employers may not inquire about an employee’s medical information unless the employee has requested an accommodation or leave, and employees are usually under no obligation to inform their employer of a pregnancy. The only exception to the latter is that some leave laws require advance notice if an employee is planning to take foreseeable leave (such as for baby bonding).

Employers often want to ask this question because they believe they need to take special precautions with pregnant employees. That, however, is generally not the case. If an employee informs you of a pregnancy, we recommend you keep the following in mind:

• You may not require medical certification indicating that an employee may continue working while pregnant.
• You may not put the employee on restricted duty or make any other modifications to their work unless they have informed you of restrictions due to a health condition.
• You may not force a pregnant employee into a leave of absence or work restriction if they are still capable of performing the essential duties of their job.
• The employee alone is responsible for making decisions that affect their safety and that of their future offspring, and the employee is protected from retaliation if they raise a complaint or concern on those grounds.
• Once the employee notifies you of the pregnancy, you should ensure they know about the options available if at some point they need an accommodation.
• State law may require that you provide the employee with certain notices.
• State law may require that certain accommodations be offered to pregnant employees, even if they do not have conditions that rise to the level of disability.
• The employee may be entitled to take leave during and after the pregnancy.

Answer from Laura, SHRM-CP:
Laura has 8 years of HR experience, spanning public- and private-sector work in the education, transit, and insurance industries. After completing a B.A. in Asian Studies from Knox College, she received her M.A. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from University of New Haven along with graduate-level certificates in Human Resources Management and Psychology of Conflict Management. Laura enjoys fencing, baking, cross-stitching, and spending time with her husband and two cats.

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