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Cautionary tale: on-the-job pregnancy discrimination

A recently concluded workplace discrimination case serves as a virtual primer to employers in California and nationally regarding how not to interact with pregnant employees at the workplace.

For starters, don't treat them differently from other workers in a manner that even remotely signals harassing behavior.

This would quality as such conduct: demanding that a pregnant worker first notify all other employees of the need to visit the restroom and then wait for permission to go, especially in light of no such policy existing for other workers.

And, coupled with that, this would certainly underscore workplace harassment and pregnancy-related discriminatory behavior: firing a pregnant worker in front of other employees for leaving the premises for a prenatal appointment at a clinic.

Regarding that appointment, an employee working at a Chipotle restaurant in Washington, D.C., notified her boss several days in advance that she would need to leave early. And she did just that, notwithstanding his stated refusal to let her go.

The bathroom-break policy, other persistent harassing behaviors and eventual termination ultimately led to a federal employment law case, where, unsurprisingly, the plaintiff prevailed.

And in a big way. Jurors were clearly turned off by the employer's conduct, coming back in short time following the trial's conclusion earlier this month with a verdict of $550,000 in favor of the fired worker.

Notably, $500,000 of that award was pegged as punitive damages.

A plethora of well-established federal laws -- as well as California state enactments -- protects employees from harassing and discriminatory conduct at the workplace.

It is imperative that every employer know those laws and have clearly established policies and procedures in place to safeguard against discrimination-based legal claims. And, of course, it is just as important for every worker to know that such protections exist to promote employee safety and an untainted work environment.

Questions or concerns regarding any aspect of labor law and worker-employer interactions can be addressed to a proven business law attorney who routinely represents employers and employees in work-related matters.

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