Workplace discrimination can come in a lot of different forms, and it isn’t always easy to identify discrimination when it is happening. Hopefully you never face discrimination at your job, but it’s still smart to be informed about what you are and aren’t entitled to as a pregnant employee.
State vs. federal laws
Federal laws apply to people across the entire country, while state laws affect people who live in a specific state. Every pregnant employee in the U.S. is protected by two federal laws: the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Pregnant women and new mothers may also have rights under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA); more on these two federal laws below.
From here, protections vary by state, so it will definitely be helpful to research your state-specific rights and see what applies to the pregnant workers in your state.
Click here to select your state from a map and learn more about its employment protections for employees who are pregnant or who have just had babies.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)
Technically, this federal law is an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects against discrimination of all kinds. This law applies to employers who have 15 or more employees, and it protects pregnant women in a few ways.
- Interviewing: It is illegal for employers to ask interviewees about their plans for a current or future pregnancy.
- Hiring and firing: Employers cannot refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant, and women can’t be fired or demoted because they’re pregnant.
- Work hours: If a woman is willing and able to work, her employer can’t require her to start leave early.
- Training: Employers must train pregnant employees the same way they train non-pregnant employees.
- Sick leave: Companies with a sick leave policy must allow pregnant women to use these sick days for pregnancy and childbirth, if the employees want to use them this way.
- Accommodations: However an employer makes accommodations for disabled employees, they must make the same accommodations for pregnant employees. These could be anything from regular breaks to ergonomic office furniture or flexibility with shift changes.
- Returning after pregnancy: A woman returning from maternity leave must be offered the same job or one that’s equivalent to what they had before they took time off to have their baby.
- Seniority credit: Women must get the same kinds of seniority credit that other employees receive while on other types of disability leave.
To learn more about the PDA, follow this link to read about the law.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Pregnancy isn’t a disability, but being pregnant can cause complications that, similar to a disability, might impair a woman’s ability to work. The ADA applies to employers who have 15 or more employees, and it requires employers to provide work accommodations for employees who have pregnancy-related conditions that might affect how they work – for example, preeclampsia, depression, gestational diabetes, or cervical insufficiency.
A good way to visualize how the PDA and the ADA work together is that the ADA requires certain workplace accommodations, and the PDA makes sure they are enforced in ways that specifically benefit pregnant women.
There are a few more things you should know about how the ADA works.
- Types of accommodations: An employer must provide reasonable workplace accommodations if needed. Some examples of accommodations could be reassigning physical tasks, modifying workplace policies, allowing an employee to work from home, providing a modified work schedule, purchasing ergonomic office equipment, or temporarily reassigning tasks.
- Restrictions: The ADA does not require employers to make changes that are very difficult or financially strenuous on the company. If there’s more than one option for how the employer can accommodate the employee, the employer can choose which accommodation they prefer.
- Required documentation: Employees may need to provide a letter from their healthcare provider that documents the medical need for a workplace accommodation.
To learn more about how the ADA applies to pregnant women, check out this fact sheet from the National Women’s Law Center.
The Families and Medical Laws Act
The FMLA offers new parents 12 weeks of unpaid, job- and benefits-protected leave after the arrival of a new baby. It also covers medical leave in case of a family member’s illness. While the FMLA was designed to provide families with quality time together, many parents often can’t afford twelve unpaid weeks off.
There are also restrictions on the FMLA that make it so only 17% of employers and 59% of the American workforce are eligible to use the FMLA. These restrictions are:
- Size of the company: There must be 50+ employees at that location, or within 75 miles of that location.
- Length of employment: Individuals must have been employed at the company for at least a year, and they must have worked at least 1250 hours in that year.
- Only applies for a year: FMLA leave can only be used in the year following the adoption or birth of a child.
Follow this link to read more about the FMLA. You can also read a helpful FAQ from the National Partnership for Women and Families here.
Filing a charge
If at any point in your pregnancy you think your legal rights have been violated, you’ll want to file a Charge of Discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You have to do this within 180 days of the event.
To read more about filing a charge, follow this link.
Just so that you’re crystal clear about what to expect in the future, check your employer’s official statements about workplace protection and discrimination regarding pregnancy. It also helps to contact your insurance to learn more about your pregnancy-related healthcare options to learn if there may be more benefits available to you as you head into your pregnancy. And keep in mind that your HR department should know about all of these things – the benefits available to you, your rights as a pregnant worker, as well as applicable state and federal laws – so if you have questions, they’re there to help.
- “Know Your Pregnancy Rights.” WomensHealth. Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, Feb 2017. Web. Accessed 9/8/17. Available at https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/youre-pregnant-now-what/know-your-pregnancy-rights.
- “Legal Rights for Pregnant Workers under Federal Law.” EEOC. US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, n.d. Web. Accessed 9/8/17. Available at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/pregnant_workers.cfm.
- “Know Your Rights: Pregnancy Discrimination.” NationalPartnership. National Partnership for Women and Families, 2013. Web. Accessed 9/8/17. Available at http://www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/workplace-fairness/pregnancy-discrimination/know-your-rights-pregnancy.pdf.
- “Know Your Rights: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).” AAUW. The American Association of University Women, n.d. Web. Accessed 9/8/17. Available at http://www.aauw.org/what-we-do/legal-resources/know-your-rights-at-work/pregnancy-discrimination-act/.
- “Fact Sheet for Small Businesses: Pregnancy Discrimination.” EEOC. US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, n.d. Web. Accessed 9/8/17. Available at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/publications/pregnancy_factsheet.cfm.
- Lisa Guerin, JD. “Laws Protecting Pregnant Employees.” Labor-employment-law. Lawyers.com, 2017. Web.