Action plan for pregnant/nursing vet staff

Know the legal and practical aspects of having a pregnant or nursing staff member in the practice

A pregnancy announcement within your practice is both exciting and nerve-wracking. How you, as a clinic owner, anticipate and address practical and legal implications can facilitate an open and productive dialogue and, hopefully, develop a mutually beneficial action plan.

Be Flexible When Nausea Strikes

If nausea enters the picture, schedule flexibility, such as adjusting the employee’s starting time or allowing for breaks if the waves hit during working hours. Sometimes a quick snack, some fresh air or the ability to escape triggering odors could abate the nausea and enable a productive return to action.

Inspect Your Scavenging System

Regardless of type, isoflurane or sevoflurane, a properly working scavenging system is essential. Exposure can cause dizziness, headaches, irritability and fatigue and, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, might be associated with miscarriages and birth defects. Determine whether your system needs maintenance, and perhaps provide a refresher on best practices during patient anesthetization and recovery for all employees.

Keep Disposable Gloves at the Ready

Providing disposable gloves is a simple and inexpensive accommodation. Technicians frequently must obtain urine samples, clean up accidents and gather urine-soaked bedding for laundering. What if she is exposed to leptospirosis? What if the litterbox the technician has been cleaning exposes her to toxoplasmosis? Providing disposable gloves (and masks to filter litter dust) might be part of the solution. However, based on recommendations made by the pregnant employee’s doctor, some of her duties might need reassignment for the duration of her pregnancy and lactation period.

Look Closely at X-ray Tasking

Be prepared to reassign X-ray duties during a pregnancy. Transitioning temporarily to reception, administration or client care could be a good workaround, especially if coworkers can provide substitute coverage. Provide a fetal film badge and more frequent readings, and consider providing additional protective gear.

Bone Up on Leave Rights

Depending on the circumstances, federal or state law might allow for various types of pregnancy leave. Large employers might be required by federal law to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected maternity leave with continuation of group health insurance coverage. Small employers might be required to provide substantial maternity leave under state laws. If the employee experiences a pregnancy-related disability, both federal and state law might require a leave or an extended leave as a reasonable accommodation. The bottom line: Review pregnancy-related leave requests carefully and be aware of your obligations.

Don’t Overlook Lactation Breaks

After mom returns to work, she could be entitled to lactation breaks, i.e., breaks taken for the purpose of expressing breast milk for her nursing child. Presently, federal law requires most employers to provide such breaks to hourly employees “each time such employee has need to express the milk.” Employers must provide a location other than a bathroom that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public. Further, 28 states and the District of Columbia have their own laws related to lactation at work.

Handle With Care

Workplace issues relating to pregnancy are nuanced and complex. Such issues implicate myriad laws concerning workplace safety, antidiscrimination, disability accommodations, family and medical leave, lactation rights and more. Violations can result in litigation and liability, and mishandling the matter could cost you a valued employee. Recruit assistance of experienced employment counsel to help ensure the transition is safe, practical and legal.

Todd A. Newman, Esq., works closely with veterinary practices as president and owner of a Salisbury, Mass., law firm ( He specializes in business, employment, labor and litigation matters.

Originally published in the April 2017 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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