Pregnancy Discrimination Act

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 What Is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The PDA notes that discrimination based on sex includes pregnancy discrimination. Under the PDA, employers cannot discriminate against any worker or job applicant who is temporarily unable to work due to pregnancy.

What Are the Hiring and Working Conditions Required of Pregnant Women?

Employers cannot refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant or because of her pregnancy-related conditions so long as she can perform the primary functions of her job. For example, suppose a pregnant woman is interviewing for a job that requires her to lift 100 pounds multiple times a day, and the pregnant woman cannot due to her pregnancy. In that case, the employer would not be found liable for pregnancy discrimination.

Additionally, employers cannot refuse to hire a woman based on prejudices against pregnant workers. Specifically, employers cannot fire a woman or require her to stop working when her pregnancy becomes apparent or refuse to hire a pregnant woman under the assumption that she would quit work once she has her child.

What Are Common Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination?

Below are the most common types of pregnant discrimination examples:

  • An employer refusing to hire a job applicant because she is pregnant
  • Firing, demoting, or refusing to promote a female employee due to her pregnancy
  • Reducing a pregnant employee’s hours or assignments because she is pregnant
  • Indecent comments or conduct regarding the employee’s pregnancy
  • Punishment in response to a request for pregnancy-related medical time-off

Can I Be Fired if My Pregnancy Prevents Me From Doing My Job?

No. Pregnant workers must be treated the same as employees with a temporary disability. Therefore, employers cannot terminate a pregnant woman’s employment because she is unable to perform work functions associated with her job due to her pregnancy. On the contrary, employers must reasonably accommodate pregnant women and temporarily disabled workers alike.

It’s essential to mention that employers may ask for further information from you. For example, suppose your employer requires other employees to submit a doctor’s note concerning their inability to perform various work functions before the employer authorizes the employee to take time off. In that case, the employer may also require pregnant workers to provide a doctor’s note.

Do Fathers Have Any Rights Under the Act?

Yes. Under the PDA, fathers have the right to take a leave of absence when their wife is pregnant to become her caregiver. Fathers with these caregiving duties cannot be discriminated against, as doing so infringes on the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when the discrimination is based on his wife’s pregnancy. Further, new fathers can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

What Is the Definition of a Leave of Absence?

A “leave of absence” is an extended time (e.g., a few days, a week, a month) when the employee is absent from work. The employee is absent because of a personal health condition or that of a family member. Other reasons for taking a leave of absence include attending to a family death or emergency. In addition, workers may take a leave of absence when pregnant and when caring for a newborn.

Can You Get Fired for Taking a Leave of Absence?

Employees may need time off from work because of health and family concerns. The period during which the employee is off from work is known as a leave of absence. The law may prohibit an employer from terminating an employee for taking a leave of absence.

When Will an Employer Grant a Request for Leave of Absence?

Many employers provide an employee handbook to their workers when they start work.

Employee handbooks or employment agreements contain provisions addressing time off from work. These provisions include employer sick leave (paid and unpaid) policies, vacation leave, and paid time off leave. As part of its employee benefits, these provisions are crafted by the company. Employers grant you leave under the provisions of these policies.

In some instances, federal or state regulation mandates employers to grant workers leave of absence. For instance, many state regulations require employers to provide workers with a specific amount of time off for illness or injury of the employee or that of a family member. These regulations vary regarding the amount of leave that must be provided. The laws differ as to what size the employer must be to be covered by the leave. The regulations also vary as to whether the leave is paid or unpaid.

Many of these regulations provide that an employee who takes leave can return to their current job. Most of these regulations contain anti-retaliation provisions, prohibiting an employer from retaliating against (firing, demoting, or suspending) an employee who has requested or taken permitted leave.

Does the Americans With Disabilities Act Require Granting a Taking a Leave of Absence?

The federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) may preclude an employer from terminating a disabled employee for taking leave. For an employee to be protected by this law, the employee must be a “qualified individual with a disability.” The worker must be able to perform the essential (primary) functions of the job. The ADA requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to these people.

A reasonable accommodation is a change in the work environment that allows a disabled employee to work better. An example is an employer providing a stool to a clerk who, because of their disability, gets tired from standing for too long but can perform their job effectively by sitting.

A leave of absence can be a reasonable accommodation if it enables workers to return to their position when leave is over. Under the ADA, an employer must give unpaid leave unless another option is better or if the leave causes the employer undue economic hardship. The ADA does not mandate employers to provide indefinite leave, which is leave with no expected return-to-work date.

What Are My Legal Rights If I Experience Pregnancy Discrimination?

If you think you have experienced pregnancy discrimination, you may wish to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You must file a charge within 180 calendar days from the alleged discrimination.

The Commission will investigate your claim, which takes approximately ten months. If the EEOC cannot determine whether the law was broken, they will send you a Notice of Right to Sue, which gives you the privilege to file suit in court. If the EEOC decides the law may have been violated, they will try to reach a voluntary settlement with the employer.

Can I Receive Benefits for Short-Term Disability?

Depending on the circumstances of each specific situation, it is possible to obtain benefits for short-term disability. Typically, short-term disability is covered by the employer or through private insurance companies. Workers are also sometimes provided with the opportunity to buy their disability packages.

Most state and federal social security disability insurance programs cover long-term or permanent disabilities. Nevertheless, some states carry laws requiring employers to provide short-term disability options. These states include Hawaii, New Jersey, and others. Short-term disability benefits generally include paid time off and some reimbursement for lost wages.

Should I Consult an Attorney?

A discrimination lawyer can be extremely useful in helping an employee with pregnancy discrimination matters. The filing of an employment discrimination complaint and gathering relevant evidence requires an attorney with knowledge of employment law. In addition, a knowledgeable lawyer can help to guide workers in any settlement arrangements.


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