Pregnancy discrimination refers to a situation where a person is treated differently from other employees in a work environment simply because they are pregnant, gave birth, need to breastfeed, or have a medical condition that is related to pregnancy or childbirth.
The main law governing pregnancy discrimination is known as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”). The PDA prohibits employers from discriminating against and treating pregnant workers or job applicants differently because of their pregnancy or childbirth.
Thus, according to the law, an employer must treat a worker who is pregnant or suffering from a pregnancy related medical complication the same way as they would treat other employees who have a temporary disability.
What Type of Behavior is Considered Discriminating Against a Pregnant Person?
Both federal and state laws prohibit employers from discriminating against pregnant employees. The reason for this is because pregnancy is generally considered to be one of the “protected categories”, among the others provided in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), such as an employee’s origin, race, age, or other characteristics.
Thus, Title VII makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against a person based on their status as pregnant.
Additionally, pregnancy discrimination laws cover various stages of the employment process, including offers, terminations, payments, promotions, benefits, vacation days, and severance packages.
Under such laws, conduct that may be considered an act of employer discrimination against a pregnant worker include:
- Withholding an employee’s wages who is rightfully entitled to the payments;
- Penalizing a worker for taking family or medical leave that they are allowed to take according to certain federal laws;
- Prematurely requiring an individual to take leave, even though they are still able to work (note that this usually requires medical proof); and
- Deciding to either terminate or not hire a person solely because they are pregnant.
What are Some Other Legal Issues Found in Pregnancy Discrimination Cases?
One major concern with pregnancy discrimination cases is the treatment of the pregnant worker as compared with other workers who were pregnant in the past. Employers should aim to provide equal treatment for all workers who become pregnant during the course of their employment.
Since every pregnancy is different, however, it may be necessary for the employer to make some adjustments for each pregnant individual. For instance, a difficult pregnancy may require more time off than a pregnancy that ends and begins without any further complications. Also, many pregnancy discrimination claims can involve gender discrimination issues as well.
Regardless of the reason for an employee’s leave request, the employer should consider the following legal issues for each instance of pregnancy, including:
- Deciding how much longer an employee should be allowed to continue working before they can take leave;
- Finding a suitable replacement for the worker;
- Following state guidelines regarding family and medical leave requirements;
- Ensuring that the pregnant worker has access to pay increases, vacation, seniority, and other benefits; and
- Protecting against or refraining from harassment of a worker because of a pregnancy, childbirth, or medical condition associated with a pregnancy.
As such, if a pregnant worker has suffered losses or has been denied an opportunity to advance because of their condition, then there is a possibility that they might have a pregnancy discrimination claim.
Therefore, they may file a complaint with a government organization (such as the EEOC) to remedy the situation. If the EEOC investigation does not resolve the issue, then they may be permitted to file a civil lawsuit against the employer for damages.
May I Leave Work Temporarily If I Am Pregnant?
According to the provisions of the PDA, an employer must permit any employees who are pregnant to be considered as temporarily disabled or allow them to take disability leave without pay due to a related pregnancy complication.
The employer must also treat a pregnant employee in the same manner as they would treat other disabled employees. An employer may not single out pregnancy related medical conditions as a reason for excluding an employee from taking temporary time off of work.
In addition, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), a new parent (e.g., either a father or mother) may be eligible for 12 weeks of leave in the event of having, adopting, or fostering a newborn. The period of leave may be paid or unpaid depending on how much time off the employee has accrued.
Lastly, it should be noted that in order to qualify for the 12 weeks of leave under the FMLA, the employee must have worked for the employer for either over 1 year, or 12 months prior before requesting leave. Also, the employer must have the specified amount of workers (i.e., 15 employees or more).
Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Pregnancy Discrimination Claims?
Similar to any employment-related claim, a discrimination lawsuit typically requires the assistance of a lawyer. Therefore, if you think you have a claim for a pregnancy discrimination case, then it may be in your best interest to hire a local employment lawyer for help.
An experienced employment lawyer will be able to provide information about your rights, discuss the steps involved in the process, and can help you seek the appropriate type of legal remedy for your particular situation.