Women account for about half of the nation’s workforce. The vast majority of working women also will become pregnant and give birth at least once while employed. That means a lot of pregnant working women are dealing with workplace pregnancy stereotypes. When workplace stereotypes become pregnancy discrimination, an experienced employment lawyer can help to hold offending parties accountable.
Many pregnant women say they feel internal and external pressures to work hard and perform well while pregnant. The source of that pressure often is workplace stereotypes of pregnant workers that easily can cross into outright illegal pregnancy discrimination.
Commonly Reported Stereotypes and Effects
The internal pressures that many pregnant workers cite come from workplace stereotypes regarding pregnant workers and their ability to do a good job. Those stereotypes often include perceptions of pregnant workers doing less work, needing more breaks while on the clock, and possibly using pregnancy as an excuse to do less work. Such stereotypes can be especially harmful, even if they mostly do not exist within a particular work setting.
Whether the actual workplace interactions are real or simply perceived, workplace stereotypes can have significantly negative psychological and health effects. When pregnant workers are concerned managers, supervisors, and other workers will look down on them for potentially being less capable of doing the job, many say they try to work harder and do more than they should. That can jeopardize the health of the pregnant woman as well as the fetus.
Pregnancy Discrimination Violates Federal and State Laws
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that treating any pregnant woman differently in the workplace because of her being pregnant is pregnancy discrimination. So is treating a woman differently as a result of recent childbirth or for having a medical condition that is related to her pregnancy or giving birth.
The woman could be an applicant whom the would-be employer did not hire strictly because of the pregnancy. She also might be a worker who is denied promotion or not given work assignments. Even denying light duties could be construed as pregnancy discrimination.
A pregnant worker or one recovering from recent childbirth might have problems performing some types of work. If she makes a reasonable request for work accommodations, the employer must make a reasonable effort to accommodate that request. It is no different than accommodating requests for lighter duties made by other workers with physical conditions that temporarily limit their ability to perform some work tasks.
Federal Protections for Pregnant Workers
Two very potent federal acts provide significant protections for pregnant workers. The U.S. Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) outlaws any kind of workplace discrimination caused by a worker’s pregnancy. The EEOC says when pregnancy discrimination results in frequent or severe harassment, it becomes an actionable offense. An employer must treat a pregnant woman as it would an injured or ill worker who temporarily cannot fully perform normal work tasks.
A woman who has temporary medical issues related to childbirth also must be treated like any other worker with a temporary disability. The EEOC says when a female worker requests temporary light duties because of pregnancy or childbirth, the employer must make reasonable efforts to fulfill the request. The employer also can:
- Assign alternate work tasks.
- Offer disability leave.
- Offer unpaid time off.
The EEOC says a pregnant worker or one who has temporary medical conditions due to childbirth qualifies for protections under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA could require the employer to provide the worker with reasonable work accommodations. A 2008 amendment makes it much easier for a worker to provide proof that her medical condition qualifies as a temporary disability subject to the ADA.
Family Medical Leave Act Also Protects Pregnant Workers and Mothers
Anyone who has worked for a qualifying employer for at least a year could qualify for Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) considerations while pregnant and following childbirth. Any private-sector employer with at least 50 employees is subject to FMLA provisions. So are all public agencies and public or private schools regardless of how many employees they have.
FMLA regulations say any qualifying employee can take up to 12 work weeks of leave during a 12-month period. The leave is allowed for qualifying workers whenever the worker has a:
- Child born or placed with the worker via adoption or foster care
- Spouse, parent, or dependent with one or more serious health conditions
- Serious health problem that affects his or her ability to do the job
- Spouse, dependent, or parent who has pressing matter because of a military member who is on active duty or recently was called up to active duty
Requesting leave does not mean an employer must automatically comply with all or even any part of an employee’s request for FMLA leave. It also does not mean the worker has complete autonomy to come and go as she or he pleases. Instead, the employer could require the worker to used accrued sick leave or paid vacation time off to offset some of the cost of the requested FMLA leave. Employees must do their best to comply with employers’ reasonable and customary requirements when asking for any type of paid time off work.
Any workers who want to file FMLA claims must work for a qualifying employer and have clocked at least 1,250 hours during the prior 12 months of employment. If a private employer has less than 50 employees, it is not subject to FMLA regulations. Because many employers have many workers in multiple locations, any employer with at least 50 workers located within 75 miles must abide by FMLA regulations.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) also prohibits pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Violations of the federal laws likely means the state-level protections also are violated. That gives the offended worker plenty of legal leverage to enforce federal and state protections for pregnant workers and mothers and punish violators by filing complaints and civil lawsuits for pregnancy discrimination.
How to Prove Workplace Pregnancy Discrimination
A combination of direct actions and circumstantial evidence can help to build strong cases for pregnancy discrimination. If an employer fires a worker because of her pregnancy, drastically reduces her working hours, or even changes the scope of her work assignments based on pregnancy stereotypes, a case for pregnancy discrimination could be argued successfully because of the employer’s direct actions.
That is especially true if a manager or supervisor specifically cited the woman’s pregnancy or childbirth issues as reason for firing, laying off, or significantly reducing the woman’s working hours and scope of assignments. If a woman is denied a promotion owing to her pregnancy or recent childbirth, that also would be a direct example of unlawful pregnancy discrimination.
Timing and other circumstantial evidence also could help to prove workplace pregnancy discrimination. If an employer fires a worker just before she was scheduled to begin FMLA leave, the employer better have a very good reason that is not related to the woman’s pregnancy. Otherwise, the timing along with evidence of generally good work performance helps to affirm pregnancy discrimination.
Many pregnancy discrimination cases rely on a combination of direct and circumstantial evidence to prove claims. Witness statements and any audio and video recordings made with a cellphone or similar device also might help to prove pregnancy discrimination and possibly win punitive damages.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C., Help to Fight Pregnancy Discrimination
Workplace stereotypes regarding pregnant workers could cause very negative effects for the expecting mother and unborn child. If you or someone you know is the victim of workplace pregnancy discrimination, reach out to the experienced Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. We will help fight pregnancy discrimination and hold liable parties accountable whenever possible. Call us today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation. Located in Pennsauken, New Jersey, and Philadelphia, we serve clients in Cherry Hill, Haddonfield, Marlton, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, New Jersey, and South Jersey.