The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or any related condition. It states that women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits.
Employers must comply with the Family Medical Leave Act, which entitles employees to take unpaid, job-protected leave for family and/or medical reasons while continuing to receive their same health insurance coverage. The law provides for 12 work weeks of leave in a one-year period.
Below are examples of how pregnancy discrimination in the workplace can occur.
Firing or discriminating against a pregnant employee
There are many examples of discriminatory behaviors, some are aggressive and some are less deliberate. Although an employer may have good intentions, such as being concerned about a pregnant employee’s safety on the job, it’s still illegal to discriminate against or fire a pregnant employee due to concerns for her health. The employee’s safety and that of her baby is ultimately up to her and her physician, not her boss or employer.
Harassing an employee for being pregnant
Conduct that includes offensive jokes, insults, physical assaults, threats, and intimidation that interferes with a pregnant or new mother’s work performance, creates a hostile work environment and is considered harassment.
Refusing to hire someone because they are pregnant
If a job applicant is pregnant or could become pregnant in the future, a company cannot refuse to hire her for those reasons. The same holds true for an employee who is applying for another position within the organization. If the employer assumes the pregnancy or related leave will create a negative economic impact or disruption of work in the workplace, that consideration is illegal. An employer can’t presume how the employee will act during her pregnancy or following childbirth.
Not providing reasonable accommodations
If an employee has pregnancy-related impairments, she must receive the same accommodations as other employees who have medical issues. Just being pregnant is not enough to require the employer to make special accommodations, and the employer may require medical certification to support a request for accommodation. Accommodations may include changing the employee’s work schedule if she has morning sickness or providing a chair for sitting at her workstation.
Firing or discriminating against an employee for pumping breast milk
Under the Affordable Care Act, an employee who is a new mother must be provided reasonable breaks to pump breast milk at work in a safe, private location other than a bathroom. However, if a company has less than 50 employees, and proves “undue hardship,” it may not be required to provide this arrangement.
Forcing an employee to take time off, change jobs or not considering them for a promotion
Although an employer may believe that a pregnant employee should take a certain amount of time off after giving birth and want to reassign her to a less stressful job, it’s illegal to do so. As long as the employee is able to perform her job, she must be allowed to do so.
Restricting pregnancy-related medical leave
Under the PDA, an employer is required to allow an employee who has physical limitations due to her pregnancy to take medical leave under the employer’s standard sick leave policy
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an employer must allow the pregnant employee to return to her job or one that’s similar in pay, benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment.
Retaliating against an employee who complains about pregnancy discrimination
It’s against the law for employers to demote, fire, harass, or otherwise retaliate against an employee for filing a pregnancy discrimination complaint, opposing pregnancy discrimination, or participating in a pregnancy discrimination proceeding.
Pregnancy discrimination is not easy to prove. As an employee, it’s important to document the conversations you had with your employer and co-workers and the resulting actions that were taken against you. This information will be extremely useful if you file a complaint or pursue legal action. You may also have to show that you were treated differently than your co-workers regarding comparable qualifications and performance records.
If you are an employee considering a discrimination complaint or an employer facing a complaint, employment attorney Derek Usman will be able to assist you. Contact him at (813) 377-1197 for a consultation.