Treating an employee or job applicant differently because they are pregnant can give rise to employment discrimination claims. Pregnancy discrimination includes not just pregnancy, but also childbirth and related medical conditions.

Pregnancy harassment may occur in many forms in the workplace. The employer may fire you or force your retirement because you are pregnant and temporarily unable to perform your normal job functions.

Also, you may have a claim if you have been disciplined because you needed to take time off because of your pregnancy or you were denied benefits or a promotion because of your pregnancy.

Am I Protected from Discrimination Because of My Pregnancy?

There are laws that protect certain classifications of employees from being harassed in the workplace. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was passed in 1978 to prevent discrimination based on sex, which includes pregnancy discrimination.

It makes it illegal to discriminate against pregnant women who are unable to perform their normal job functions temporarily.  It applies to a number of employment situations, including those related to the hiring, training, assignment of job duties, layoff, promotion or determination of benefits.

How Does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act Protect Pregnant Women?

Under the PDA, employers are prohibited from refusing to hire pregnant women if they can perform the major functions of their job. For example, if a job requires that the pregnant employee be able to lift a substantial weight as a material requirement of the job, and the employer learns during the interview that the prospective employee is pregnant, the employer may be protected legally.  

On the other hand, if the employee makes it known to the employer they are pregnant and the employer hires someone to permanently take their job while they are on leave, the employer may be held liable for discrimination.

Other examples of actions that the employer might take against a pregnant employee that would be considered illegal include, reducing their hours, making inappropriate comments about their pregnancy, refusing to grant pregnancy-related leave, or firing the employee because they assume the employee will not return after giving birth.  

The pregnant employee is treated as other employees with a temporary disability. The employer must provide reasonable accommodations to the employee until they are able to return to full function in their job. That may mean the employer will have to provide light duties, change assignments or grant unpaid leave.

Does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act Also Apply to Fathers?

Under the PDA, fathers have the right to take a leave of absence to support the pregnant mothers. If the employer fires the fathers during this time, the employer may also be liable for violating additional laws, such as the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

What Else Does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act Address?

The PDA protects against gender discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, but is only applicable to companies that employ 15 or more people. While other laws may apply, the PDA only protects employees so long as the employer can continue to do their jobs. It also provides the same benefits for unmarried and married pregnant women.

The employer is only required to provide the same job security and benefits to its pregnant employees as it provides to other employees. This means that if the employer does not allow temporarily disabled employees to take leave, or only allows temporarily disabled employees to take unpaid leave, the pregnant employee is only entitled to the same. Also, if the employer requires a doctor’s note to be submitted before granting leave, the pregnant employee will be required to provide the same note.

If the employer is required to provide health benefits, the health insurance must cover expenses for pregnancy-related conditions on the same terms as expenses for other medical conditions. Likewise, the insurance carrier is similarly limited by the PDA from discriminating against pregnant women.

An insurance carrier must pay the same amount or impose the same limitation on payment as it would for other medical conditions. Furthermore, the insurance company cannot impose an additional or greater deductible for pregnancy than it would for other health conditions.

What Should I Do if I Have Been Discriminated Against Because of My Pregnancy?

If you are the victim of pregnancy discrimination, you can contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You will be required to file a complaint with the EEOC, typically within 180 days of the alleged violation. The EEOC will then review the complaint.

If, after its investigation, it determines there is a sufficient basis to proceed, then it will issue a “right to sue letter” to allow the employee to sue in federal court. Otherwise, the EEOC will dismiss the complaint.

Should I Consult an Attorney About My Pregnancy Discrimination Claims?

Whether you are the employer or the employee, you should consider consulting with an experienced employment lawyer to help you understand your rights and responsibilities. Your attorney can provide you with the representation needed for your case.