Pregnancy can be a joyous, yet stressful time in a woman’s life. If you are a pregnant woman in the workplace, you face additional challenges as you prepare to have your new baby, and possibly take some time to be with your new child.
The 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects women in the workplace from being discriminated against for either being pregnant, having a child, or taking time off after a child is born. Even though this law has existed for over 40 years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) receives over 4,000 complaints every year alleging that employers are discriminating against pregnant employees, or mothers who have just had their child.
As an expecting mother, you have legal rights not only during your pregnancy, but to take leave after you give birth under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), so long as you and your employer meet the criteria of this law. The following will help you understand your legal rights and how to protect them.
What is Pregnancy Discrimination?
Both federal and state laws prohibit employers from discriminating against pregnant employees. The law states that employers may not take any adverse employment action against a woman due to her pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition, and must provide a pregnant woman with reasonable accommodations, when necessary.
If an employer terminates, denies a promotion, removes responsibilities, or demotes a woman who is pregnant or on maternity leave, she may have a claim against her employer for pregnancy discrimination.
Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination
Pregnancy discrimination can occur in several ways, both overt and subtle. If you feel that any of these scenarios may apply to you, you should contact our experienced legal team to help determine if you may have a strong claim against your employer for pregnancy discrimination.
Refusal to Hire
Just like any other member of society, pregnant women are looking for employment. While employers are never allowed to ask personal questions of women during an interview, the fact that a woman is pregnant is often visibly noticeable. Some employers may feel reluctant to hire a pregnant woman, either for the belief that she will not be as productive or because they expect her to take leave under the FMLA soon after being hired. Other times, an employer will discover that a woman just gave birth and is now looking for employment. The employer may not want to hire her as they think she will take too much leave as a new mother, not stay with the company long, or not be as productive. If an employer does not hire a woman based on her pregnancy or just having had a child, their actions constitute pregnancy discrimination. In these situations, a woman has the right to file an EEOC claim for pregnancy discrimination.
If you were fired by an employer due to the fact you are pregnant or because you took leave under the FMLA after having a baby, you will be able to file a pregnancy discrimination claim. Oftentimes, employers will attempt to mask the reason they are firing an employee. It is important to maintain all records of employment, including performance reviews, job performance statistics, or any other documentation that shows that good work was acknowledged by the company prior to the termination of employment.
Many employers will not terminate the employment of a pregnant employee, but resort to a level of harassment that makes the woman uncomfortable or interferes with her ability to perform her job. Some common harassing actions against pregnant women or new mothers may include intimidation, negative or uncomfortable comments, insults regarding pumping breast milk, or simply not including a pregnant woman in different corporate activities. Offensive or crass comments or jokes, insults, or verbal intimidation could all create a hostile work environment that results in pregnancy discrimination.
While employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women or women returning from pregnancy leave, expecting a pregnant woman to produce the same amount of work, or work the same number of hours as other employees may be discriminatory. Obviously, these cases are fact-dependent and will be subjective in nature. However, some examples of pregnancy discrimination may include intentionally reducing the number of hours to begin a process of discrimination intended to result in the firing of the employee or limit her ability to produce results thus leading to a negative performance appraisal. Any attempt by an employer to force a woman to take time off that is not needed or requested, reducing salary, or refusing a deserved promotion could be an illegal form of pregnancy discrimination.
A pregnant woman or a woman returning from FMLA leave both have the right to request reasonable accommodations in the office due to pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition. For example, a special chair for back support, a private room to pump breast milk, or more frequent bathroom breaks should be allowed by an employer. If an employer fails to provide reasonable accommodations with respect to these requests, it could be a strong case for pregnancy discrimination.
Under the Family Medical Leave Act, a woman has rights not only during her pregnancy but also following the birth of her child. By law, all non-exempt employers must allow a pregnant employee, who is protected under FMLA, to take leave prior to the birth of a child for any medical conditions that may arise from the pregnancy. Additionally, after the birth of the child, most employers must provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave to the employee. Finally, the employer must keep the employee’s job available while she is on maternity leave and allow the woman to return to her position or a similar position, with the exact same pay, benefits, and all terms and conditions of her employment.
An Advocate You Can Trust
If you feel you were discriminated against in the workplace based on your pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition, the Ward Law Firm is here to help assess your claim and pursue the recovery you are entitled to. Our team of talented employment attorneys has helped countless clients stand up to their employers in the face of discrimination and injustice. Don’t let unlawful discrimination in the workplace steal your joy during this time in your life. The Ward Law Firm is here to be your advocate. Contact us at 916-496-3899 to schedule a consultation.