The Facts: In 2010, Kristi Rifkin, an employee at a T-Mobile call center in Tennessee, had a high-risk pregnancy. One of her doctor’s recommendations was that she drink lots of water.
The call center industry is heavily monitored and measured, and it appears that the T-Mobile call center where Ms. Rifkin worked was no exception. T-Mobile required her to clock out when she needed to use the restroom more than on her normally scheduled breaks. She had to account for every second of her work day.
Ultimately, Ms. Rifkin needed a leave under the Family & Medical Leave Act for the last several weeks of her pregnancy.
Shortly after she returned to work after the birth of her child, Ms. Rifkin was fired for a small error on a customer’s account resulting in an extra charge to that customer and a 12 cent higher commission for Ms. Rifkin. We do not know whether others at T-Mobile were fired for similar errors. Ms. Rifkin did not sue T-Mobile, so we are not likely to get any additional information on this case.
I don’t know why this situation from 2010 has received recent news attention, but it has made the rounds of the media and legal commentators. See here and here for examples. I suspect the media attention to this matter started when Ms. Rifkin posted on the MomsRising.org blog on April 25, 2013.
The Moral: If you are an employee, follow the instructions your employer gives you. In this case, Ms. Rifkin says she complied with everything she was asked to do. She got a doctor’s note to justify her frequent restroom breaks, even though she didn’t think it should be necessary. She took FMLA leave and appears to have documented her leave appropriately.
If you are a manager, make sure you are not treating pregnancy any differently than any other short-term disability. That’s what the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires.
Some pregnancies may not require any accommodation. Others will require accommodations like Ms. Rifkin needed. Do not require more documentation of pregnant employees than of other employees needing accommodation. Do not hold pregnant employees to higher performance standards.
Some states have more stringent requirements for accommodating pregnancies than the federal PDA. Make sure to comply with these state and local requirements, as well as with all laws related to employee breaks. (Note that most states do not require breaks of particular frequency or length, nor do they require that employees be paid for their breaks. Other states have strict rules on these matters.)
Also, employers need to be sure they have good grounds for firing any employee who has been pregnant or taken an FMLA leave, so that any retaliation lawsuit is less likely to be successful. It is best to be able to point to other employees fired for the same reason.
In this case, there is no evidence that T-Mobile did anything wrong, though it certainly sounds bad to require a pregnant woman to justify her trips to the bathroom. One more moral might be: Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.
Ms. Rifkin’s post on MomsRising.org is worth reading, just to get a sense of how employees feel when every minute of their day is monitored. This isn’t to say that an employer should not monitor its workforce, but employers should recognize the impact on morale if they do.
How closely do you think employees’ time should be monitored?