She's Pregnant. Can I Fire Her?

April 1, 2008

I am a solo physician and have just two employees. One of my employees is pregnant - apparently a high-risk pregnancy. She keeps calling me at the last minute to tell me that she isn’t feeling well and won’t be in that day, which leaves me stranded. I have told her that I need her to be present every working day. She suggested I hire a third employee to cover for her when she is out. I cannot do this financially. What options do I have to have my office permanently staffed? May I, or when can I, safely terminate this employee? I have not been satisfied with her performance anyway.

Question: I am a solo physician and have just two employees. One of my employees is pregnant - apparently a high-risk pregnancy. She keeps calling me at the last minute to tell me that she isn’t feeling well and won’t be in that day, which leaves me stranded. I have told her that I need her to be present every working day. She suggested I hire a third employee to cover for her when she is out. I cannot do this financially. What options do I have to have my office permanently staffed? May I, or when can I, safely terminate this employee? I have not been satisfied with her performance anyway.

Answer: Your risk, obviously, is in appearing to fire someone because she is pregnant. If you weren’t happy with the employee, the time to deal with that was before the pregnancy. You don’t explain what your policy is for this employee during her maternity leave. Is the leave paid or unpaid?

In a practice your size, you are not bound by the Family and Medical Leave Act that would otherwise require you to hold her job and determines the extent of leave, but you’d ideally agree to a set standard expectation.

Also, how many days paid leave does the employee get under her standard employment contract? If she has already exceeded the number of paid days, you really have less of an issue.

Take her up on her suggestion, with a slight variation.

For her health, encourage her to stay home while you pay someone else to do her job. You still have just one salary to pay.

Again, agree to how long after the birth you will hold the position for her and make sure your new hire understands the conditions of her employment.

I don’t know enough about your employment agreement and tacitly understood agreements with this staffer to advise you in detail, but consider the areas discussed above and do be careful about firing her.

You might want to consult with an attorney should you choose to move in the direction of firing her.