Pregnancy and Employment in the Dental Practice

Due to the vast number of female employees in the dental field, the issue of employee pregnancy arises frequently. Many dentists fail to abide by federal law in their dealings with pregnant employees because they simply aren’t familiar with the legislation protecting the pregnant employee: the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). However, the lack of knowledge surrounding these laws can be costly and can lead dental employers straight into disputes with labor boards.

The Family and Medical Leave Act applies to employers with fifty (50) or more employees. Covered employers must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to eligible employees. In addition, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which applies to employers with fifteen (15) or more employees, also prohibits discrimination against pregnant women.

These federal laws provide that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes as other persons not so affected but similar in their ability or inability to work. Further, most states have enacted their own pregnancy discrimination laws. Many states have also lowered the covered employer threshold to those employers with fewer than fifteen (15) employees, with some states requiring that employers with four (4) or more employees comply with such laws.

When federal or state pregnancy laws apply to your dental office, it is important to be aware of and to adhere to certain guidelines. First, if the pregnant employee refuses or is unable to perform certain tasks, then the dental employer must determine what accommodations may be needed. However, if the accommodation would cause an undue hardship and require significant difficulty or expense for the employer, then the employer may deny any accommodation.   In addition, when federal or state laws apply to a dental practice, the dentist must remember that it is illegal to deny employment, promotions, or to fire a woman because she is pregnant. Finally, employees returning from a pregnancy leave are entitled to return to their former or a similar position at the same work schedule and pay, unless there is a legitimate business reason as to why that job is no longer available.

Women are a protected class, and if an employee’s pregnancy is handled inappropriately, the employer could end up in court, incurring costly fees and time away from the practice. Therefore, it is extremely important that dental employers familiarize themselves with the laws that apply to their practice.

Stuart J. Oberman, Esq handles a wide range of legal issues for the dental profession including cyber security breaches, employment law, practice sales, OSHA, and HIPAA compliance, real estate transactions, lease agreements, noncompete agreements, dental board complaints, and professional corporations.


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