Despite the progress our nation has made in employment law over the years, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace still harms many women across the land. A significant number of employers refuse to hire pregnant women, or contrive to find excuses to fire current personnel who become pregnant.
It's important to understand, however, that this behavior is illegal, and employers who discriminate against workers in this manner—by terminating them, by demoting them, by denying a promotion, or through other workplace actions detrimental to the employee—can be seriously punished by the courts. With that in mind, here's a brief overview of pregnancy discrimination as it is defined and treated by current law.
Pregnancy discrimination is banned by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Specifically, it is outlawed by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), a federal statute that was added in 1978 to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in order to expand the protections of the 1964 legislation. The PDA forbids workplace discrimination due to an employee's pregnancy issues (past, present, or future).
Maternal leave is protected by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA lets women (and their spouses) take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to attend to childbearing issues without risking job termination or demotion. Any company that has at least fifty employees must comply with the FMLA.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) also extends a number of legal protections. If an employee suffers from a temporary physical impairment relating to pregnancy, then the ADA may require the employer to provide reasonable accommodations at the workplace, just as they must accommodate personnel with other types of impairments.
Taken together, the above-mentioned laws provide workers with a wide range of defenses against pregnancy discrimination. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
Employers cannot reject a job applicant solely due to their pregnancy. So long as the applicant is capable of performing expected job duties, they cannot be turned away due to their pregnancy. Employers also cannot reject an applicant on the basis that the company's clients or personnel might object to having business dealings with a pregnant woman. The law also bars employers from asking applicants whether they are pregnant or intend to become so in the future.
Pregnant women on leave cannot be unfairly commanded to produce doctor's notes. If company policy does not require personnel to obtain a note from the doctor to verify a short-term disability claim, then this policy must be extended to pregnant personnel on leave as well.
Pregnant women on leave must be given the same consideration as personnel on leave for other reasons. This means that employees on pregnancy-related leave must be permitted to accumulate benefits (e.g., disability, seniority) in the same manner as all other workers at the company.
Pregnant women are not required to inform the company about their condition. However, the worker is required to do so if their pregnancy progresses to the point where their employer must provide reasonable accommodations as mandated by law. If the employee expects to take leave to manage their pregnancy, then they should inform their employer according to the requirements of the applicable law—for example, the FMLA requires 30-day advance notice, if possible.
If you believe you have experienced pregnancy discrimination, you should seek out experienced legal counsel who can help you sort out the various issues that apply in these cases. Contact Barrett & Farahan today.