Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace

Pregnancy should be a joyous time in a woman's life, and fortunately, women in today's society do not have to tolerate discrimination in the workplace simply because they have decided to start a family.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Pregnancy discrimination involves treating a woman (an applicant or employee) unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth," and is against the law.

Legal Protections

The Family and Medical Leave Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, are the governing laws pertaining to pregnancy discrimination and rights of pregnant workers.

Employers may not discriminate against a pregnant woman based upon any element of employment, including hiring, firing, promotions or pay. Harassment of pregnant women is also illegal, and harassing a woman in the workplace because she is pregnant, because of childbirth, or because of a "medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth" is against the law.

While illegal harassment is not characterized by every offhand comment or incident, if the comments or incidents are severe or so frequent that they create a hostile working environment or result in negative decisions being made against the employee-such as being wrongful termination-illegal harassment has likely occurred. It is not just the employee's supervisor who is forbidden to harass; the law also dictates that employers cannot allow other supervisors in the workplace, co-workers, or customers to harass a pregnant employee.

Accommodations

If an employee is unable to perform the duties of her job because of pregnancy or any medical condition related to her pregnancy, she must be treated in the same manner as other employee who is temporarily disabled. Such provisions that may be required of the employer include modifying the pregnant woman's duties, giving her different or alternative duties to perform, or granting her disability or leave without pay.

Under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, an employee may be entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for childbirth and to care for her newborn baby without the risk of losing her job or any other adverse action being taken against her.

Even with these protections in place, pregnancy discrimination and harassment unfortunately occur with alarming frequency. If you have been subject to such discrimination or harassment, please contact an experienced employment law attorney to explore your options.