Is it ethical for Barnett to adopt the “fetal protection policy”?
Regarding whether it is ethical for Barnett Inc. to adopt a fetal protection policy, the answer is yes and no at the same time. The affirmative response is derived from the fact that the fact that it has been proven scientifically that the exposure of women to lead affects their reproductive system and their unborn children. Children that are borne of women that have had exposure to lead often develop congenital diseases and can have mental and cognitive problems in their lives. Exposure to lead cause the children born to such women to have lower IQs compared to those of women that have never been in contact with lead. This action is inspired by the morality of protecting the health and quality of life for a child that is yet to be born, making it a moral decision.
However, the move taken by this firm can also be considered unethical. This is because the fetal protection policy contravenes the equal employment laws of the United States. It denies women that are within the childbearing age the opportunity to work at the firm just because of their gender and the presumption that they are going to have children in the future. However, there is a way in which women can overcome this hurdle in their place of work. This is possible by getting sterilized voluntarily. A proof of sterility or infertility by the women is bound to free them from the burden of having children in the future, freeing them from becoming candidates in the enforcement of the fetal protection policy. At the same time, this raises the important question whether forcing women to undergo sterilization can qualify as sex discrimination at the workplace, given that men are not subjected to the same.
This policy is an example of an ethical dilemma faced by employers. They are required to justify this policy and at the same time prove that it is not discriminatory against the women. To justify this policy, the employer is required by law to prove that being a male or an infertile female is a bona fide occupation qualification (BFOQ) for the job (Henricks 126). The employer has the legal burden to show sufficiently that all the persons that have been excluded by the job qualifications description cannot perform the task safely or efficiently. The employer has to further demonstrate that the essence and purpose of the organization would not be realized if a person from the excluded groups were to be hired by the company. The organization needs to avoid the use of gender stereotypes in the in the justification of this policy to avoid backlash from the civil groups and the justice system.
The firm needs to put emphasis on the sexual characteristics of the individuals denied occupation as opposed to focusing on the characteristics that are peculiar or correlate with a particular sex. These are the factors considered under the BFOQ analysis of the potential employees for a firm with the fetal protection policy. The fetal protection policies are usually solely directed at the potential female employees in the organization. This makes them difficult justify using the BFOQ approach. All fertile women have the capacity to become pregnant. Despite that being the case, it is not given that these women will actually become pregnant (Henricks 127). This policy is made tricky by the fact that it does not focus on the health of the employee at the workplace. Rather, it emphasizes the health of the potential offspring of the employee.
Is Barnett obligated to protect its employees from this risk?
Barnett is obligated to protect the employees from the risk of lead exposure. The children born of women that have been exposed to lead or any other chemicals that affect the fetus or the reproductive system of females are bound to have health problems in their lives. This poor health of the children can be expected to have a negative influence on the performance of the female employees, as it is a personal stressor that they can do very little to rectify. This means that failure to protect the women and the fetuses would affect the company adversely, and it is not the desired outcome by the management of the firm.
The firm has to prove that the risks are significant and that they cannot be tolerated during pregnancy. Broad application of the fetal protection policies by this company can invite litigations from the affected women and cause the company to incur extra costs and possibly a significant settlement. On the other hand, allowing the fertile women to continue working while exposed to lead contaminants can harm the women and their children. The most probable outcome of this is a class action from the affected families many years afterward and the tainting of the brand of the company. The company, therefore, has a duty to protect the employees from lead exposure risks even if it seems unfair to one of the sexes.
Henricks, Jennifer. “What to Expect When You’re Expecting: Fetal Protection Laws That Strip Away the Constitutional Rights of Pregnant Women.” Boston College Journal of Law & Social Justice 35.1 (2015): 117-152.