Add a baby to the family and the workplace concerns can multiply, too.
QI've been employed for a small firm for four years, with great reviews and raises every year. I am the first employee here in the past 25 years to have a baby. My job description says minimum travel may be required. But now that I have a newborn, and because my husband works nights, I will no longer be able to travel because we do not have nighttime day care, or relatives or friends able to look after a baby overnight. Can my employer fire me because I have a child and will not be able to travel?
ADiane A. Seltzer, a Washington lawyer who at various times has represented both employers and workers, said that "having a baby does not put you in a protected class" of workers. "Unless you have a [work] contract, work under a union contract or are a civil servant, you are an at-will worker and can be fired for any reason or no reason, but not for an unlawful reason," such as on the basis of race, gender or nationality.
In short, Seltzer said this company "can make her do her job."
Seltzer said her employer could try to work around this. "I would think it's part of the best practices of business to try to keep an employee who's valued. She's got a track record."
"Yes, they could legally fire her," Seltzer said, "but how often does it come up that she has to travel? Does her husband have some flexibility in his work hours? Could she switch the overnight work duties with a co-worker in exchange for her doing something else for that person?
"She ought to approach management and ask, 'Could we work something out here?' " Seltzer said. "She can be her own best publicist."
While no Maryland or Virginia laws specifically protect working parents from job discrimination, Seltzer noted, in the District of Columbia it is illegal to discriminate against anyone based on their parental responsibilities.
Seltzer said that if the worker in this case is at a company with 50 or more workers, she would have one other means to avoid losing her job if it is endangered because of her child-care responsibilities at the times she is asked to travel. As a last resort, she could take intermittent unpaid leaves totaling up to 12 weeks during the first year after giving birth, effectively declining the travel assignments to keep her job. The Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees a worker her job or a similar one upon returning to work.
-- Kenneth Bredemeier
E-mail your workplace questions to Kenneth Bredemeier at firstname.lastname@example.org. Discuss workplace issues with him at 11 a.m. Wednesday at www.washingtonpost.com/liveonline.