There are many legal aspects to being an employer. Employers must ensure that they are in compliance with the various state and federal regulations that govern workplaces.
Two areas of compliance that are particularly complex are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).
In general, corporations seem to have a clear understanding of the ADA regulations as they relate to making accommodations for employees with physical disabilities. Perhaps the newest edge of the law and one that corporations have not yet fully figured out is how to accommodate what are termed “intellectual disabilities”. This may turn out to be a more complex procedure for businesses, especially as companies try to determine which accommodations are reasonable and which they perceive to be a hardship. There have been recent EEOC rulings requiring accommodations for employees with dyslexia as well as dysgraphia (a disability that affects one’s ability to write).
The PDA in general mandates that employers cannot fire, refuse to hire or even demote a pregnant employee, nor can an employer refuse to hire, fire or demote an employee who could become pregnant in the future. As a consequence, employers cannot attempt to act in the best interests of the mother by reassigning her job tasks unless the pregnant employee requests assignment or is unable to physically perform the job functions. Furthermore, the employer cannot force a pregnant employee to take maternity leave until the employee (and her physician) determine that she must take the leave.
The notion of the “virtual office” has also in some ways made accommodations both easier and more complicated. Many employees can now easily telecommute, which can then mean that the actual corporate office space does not have to physically accommodate every worker every day. But employers now run the risk when they make demands on employees to work specific hours in a specific location. And the wicket becomes even stickier when a pregnant employee asks for flexibility in location and work hours. Employers must consult with their attorneys (ideally far before this situation occurs) to determine what the workplace flexibility policies are as they stand now, and what they will be going forward, and certainly what will be published (and presumably adhered to) in the employee handbook.
It is always a good idea to ascertain what regulations apply to your business and to review all employment documents and procedures with your attorney. Preventive legal work is much more prudent than having to put out legal fires after the issues erupt.