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Discriminating Against a Pregnant Person

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What Is Pregnancy Discrimination?

Pregnancy discrimination occurs when a person is treated differently in the workplace because they are pregnant, had a child, need to breastfeed, or have a medical condition that is related to pregnancy or childbirth.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits employers from discriminating and treating pregnancy employees or applicants differently because of their pregnancy or childbirth. If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to her pregnancy or medical condition that is related to her pregnancy, the employer must treat her in the same way as they would treat other employees who are temporarily disabled.

What Type of Conduct Is Considered Discriminating Against a Pregnant Person?

Discriminating against a pregnant worker is prohibited by both federal and state laws. Pregnancy is generally considered to be a “protected category,” along with other categories such as a person’s age, race, national background, or other characteristics. This means that an employer cannot discriminate against a person based on their status as pregnant. 

Pregnancy discrimination laws may cover various stages of the employment process, including hiring, promotions, benefits, vacation, and severance. Conduct that may be considered discriminating against a pregnant worker can include:

  • Withholding wages when they are rightfully due to the employee
  • Penalizing the employer for taking family or medical leave that they are entitled to take
  • Prematurely requiring the person to take leave even though they can still work (usually requires medical proof)
  • Not hiring a person or terminating them because they are pregnant

What Other Legal Issues Are Involved in Pregnancy Discrimination Cases?

One major concern with pregnancy discrimination cases is the treatment of the pregnant worker in comparison with other workers who have become pregnant in the past. Employers should strive to provide equal treatment for all workers who become pregnant during the course of employment. 

However, since each pregnancy is different, the employer may need to make some adjustments in each case, for instance in determining when the employer should take leave or not. Also, many pregnancy discrimination claims also involve gender discrimination as well.

In each case, the employer should consider legal issues such as:

  • How long the worker should be allowed to continue before taking leave
  • Finding a suitable replacement for the worker
  • Following state guidelines regarding family and medical leave
  • Ensuring that the pregnant worker has access to pay increases, vacation, seniority, and other benefits.
  • Harassment of a woman because of a pregnancy, childbirth or medical condition related to pregnancy

Thus, if the pregnant worker has suffered losses or has been denied an opportunity to advance based on their condition, it is possible that they may have legal claim. They can file a complaint with a government organization such as the EEOC for relief.  If this is not fruitful, they may be able to file a civil lawsuit against the employer for damages.

Can I Leave Work Temporarily If I Am Pregnant?

Under the PDA, an employer must allow their employees to be considered as temporarily disabled or take disability leave without pay due to their pregnancy. The employer must treat a pregnant employee the same way they would treat other disabled employees. An employer must not single out pregnancy related medical conditions for excluding an employee temporary time off.

Under the Family and Medical Leave, a new parent either a father or mother may be eligible for 12 weeks of leave (unpaid or paid depending on the employees accrued time off) that may be used in case of a newborn. To be eligible for this act, the employee must have worked for the employer for over 1 year or 12 months prior for taking the time off and the employer must have a specified amount of workers.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Pregnancy Discrimination Claims?

As with any employment-related claim, a discrimination lawsuit generally requires the assistance of a lawyer. It’s in your best interests to hire an employment lawyer if you or a loved one needs help with a pregnancy discrimination claim. Your attorney can inform you of your rights and can help you seek the appropriate type of legal remedy.

Photo of page author Kourosh Akhbari

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 02-06-2017 09:52 AM PST

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