A 1978 law is increasingly regarded as "an available remedy."
The birthrate and the number of working new moms are down, yet pregnancy-discrimination settlements are at an all-time high. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 4,512 complaints last year. The total number of cases was up only 8% over a decade ago, but 703 cases were settled by companies last year after the EEOC found cause--up 88% over 1994. (Only a handful of claims end up in court.)
What's behind the trend? Pregnant women have been protected since 1978, but the longer the law is on the books, the more women see it as "an available remedy," says Virginia Herrero Pagliery, a lawyer in the Miami office of Gunster, Yoakley and Stewart.
To limit exposure, document policies and offer training. If they ask, provide extra break time to pregnant women, or move their desks temporarily. Base raises and promotions on performance, not fertility. And follow the law: Firms with more than 50 employees must provide 12 weeks of maternity leave. Providing paid leave is optional but advised. Some companies link it to an employee pledge to return to work for a set period after a maternity leave.