The Zika virus is currently wreaking havoc on a lot more than the upcoming summer Olympics, it’s causing a lot of angst for companies who have an international clientele.
Employers have a real problem. They cannot prohibit a female employee who is pregnant from travelling to a country where the Zika virus is known to exist because, by doing so, they could be perceived as discriminating against pregnant women. On the other hand, they leave themselves open to a serious lawsuit if they insist a pregnant woman (even one whom they did not know was pregnant) travel to an infected country and she contracts the virus and the virus affects her baby.
Employees are not immune from conflict either. Women, especially in the early stages of pregnancy and especially if that pregnancy is fraught with complications, may not wish to reveal to anyone, let alone their boss, that they are pregnant. Women attempting to become pregnant may also not be comfortable sharing the inner workings of their lives with their superiors. Yet they may be unable to turn down upcoming international business travel without both fear of reprisal and a sacrifice of privacy.
Fortunately, the Chicago Tribune reports that many employees are finding that on this issue, their employers are willing to offer accommodations and a sympathetic ear. United Airlines, for example, is allowing flight attendants to remove themselves from flights into Zika-plagued areas. Other companies are relying more heavily on technology to connect them with their global partners.
The key to avoiding discriminatory behaviors in this situation seems to be open communication. Employers do not have the right to simply forbid employees of childbearing age to travel to countries where the Zika virus is known to exist. Instead, employers are being advised to give their employees as much information about Zika as they can, and to ultimately leave the decision up to each individual.
If you have encountered situations at work where you were forced to do something that put you in danger or violated your rights, you may want to consider contacting an attorney.