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ACOG: Ob.gyns. can help protect pregnant women’s workplace rights


 

Obstetrician-gynecologists have a central role in helping pregnant patients maintain employment by writing appropriate notes to employers and informing patients of their rights, according to a new committee opinion by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The opinion, released March 28, outlines key considerations for ob.gyns. in assisting pregnant patients with employment maintenance and helping protect them from employment discrimination. The most common employment issues that pregnant women face include pregnancy-related discrimination, work accommodations that allow continued employment, job-protected leave, and wage replacement while on leave, according to the opinion. After delivery, top employment concerns involve lactation, and accommodations and leave for recovery, bonding, and caring for the infant.

“It’s important that ob.gyns. discuss workplace expectations with their working pregnant patient,” Yasser El-Sayed, MD, vice chair of the ACOG’s committee on obstetric practice said in a statement. “Some women may be unaware of attendant risks to pregnancy at their job, while others may be unaware that their ob.gyn. can offer both support and potential solutions or resources, whether in the form of slight modifications or a formal medical note detailing the need for an accommodation to protect the patient’s health.”

To address these issues, ACOG recommends that ob.gyns. reassure patients that working during pregnancy is generally safe. In the case of high-risk or complicated pregnancy, ob.gyns. should inform patients that work accommodations often can allow for continued safe employment. Appropriately drafted notes by physicians to employers are key, the opinion stresses.

“By writing appropriate notes to employers, obstetrician-gynecologists and other obstetric care providers can be instrumental in obtaining accommodations for their patients who are able to continue working,” the authors wrote. “Accommodations that allow a woman to keep working are the most reliable way to guarantee pay, benefits, and job protection.”

Because the way in which medical certification paperwork is written can greatly affect whether employers comply with medical suggestions, physicians should familiarize themselves with the most effective ways to write such notes, according to ACOG. The recent opinion provides an overview of the necessary structure and contents of medical notes to optimize their effects. The opinion highlights the work of Pregnant@Work, an online note-writing resource developed by the University of California’s Hastings Center for WorkLife Law, San Francisco, that assists health providers in writing legally appropriate work accommodations letters.

Also important for ob.gyns. is knowing the relevant state and federal protections for pregnant patients and new mothers who work or take medical leave. In some instances, it may be necessary for women to consult with a legal counselor in cases in which discrimination has occurred, accommodations are denied, or complex legal questions arise, according to the opinion.

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