Being pregnant is supposed to be a happy time, but when there is pregnancy discrimination at work, it can negatively impact an expectant mother’s health and well-being. Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978, making it illegal for companies to undertake adverse employment actions against pregnant workers, but this kind of thing still goes on today whether it be obvious or subtle. Complainants often, but not always, file grievances with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and this agency has a table showing the number of complaints filed from 2010 to 2020. Fortunately, it shows a decrease, but there were more than 2,500 complaints filed in 2020. There have also been some high-profile workplace pregnancy discrimination suits as well.
High-Profile Pregnancy Discrimination Cases
There are several high-profile pregnancy discrimination cases that have made the news in recent years. In 2018, a Texas government official was accused of firing the acting chief of staff after she disclosed that she was pregnant. At the time, Capitol Hill employees were not protected by all the federal statutes regarding employment at the time but were protected by the Congressional Accountability Act. Their reporting process requires counseling and a 30-day waiting period; should neither resolve the problem, employees can request administrative proceedings.
The following year, a Netflix employee sued for pregnancy discrimination. She alleged that after she informed her manager that she was pregnant, he stopped inviting her to meetings and removed her from projects she was working on. The employee then reported the issue to the human resources department and was subsequently fired. Another notable case revolved around a Los Angeles restaurant and night club. A pregnant employee found that her hours were reduced once the business owners learned that she was pregnant; they also took her off the work schedule after she had the baby. The EEOC got involved, and the restaurant paid $82,500 to settle the case.
Examples of Pregnancy Workplace Discrimination
A common kind of pregnancy workplace discrimination happens when women apply for jobs and interviewers ask if they have children and/or if they are planning to have more children. A woman who reveals that she is pregnant might be told to wait until the child is born and to then apply again. Discrimination can also happen when a pregnant employee asks if she can stop lifting heavy items when pregnant and perhaps help with something else. If the supervisor says no, this might be illegal discrimination if the supervisor told another employee who was recovering from a surgery that she did not have to lift boxes.
Another example could be a pregnant employee who informs her boss that she has to take time off from work for important prenatal care. If that boss docks her pay and later reduces her hours, it might be discrimination. It would have to be shown that other employees who took off time for medical treatment were not docked and did not have their hours cut.
Pregnant employees may hesitate to inform employers about their pregnancies because they fear this kind of mistreatment. Before informing them, it is a good idea to read your company handbook or contact your union if you belong to one. They may have advance notification requirements of which you should adhere. It is also a good idea to research their policies pertaining to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA), short-term disability leave, and sick leave. Complying with company policies can make things easier for you.
How Do Laws Protect Pregnant Women from Workplace Discrimination?
Going back to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978: This law amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The PDA prohibits discrimination that is based on pregnancy, childbirth, and any related medical conditions; it applies to both employees and job applicants. The PDA is designed to prevent employees from treating these individuals in unfavorable ways in all aspects of employment, including:
- Pay and benefits
- Job assignments and promotions
- Training, layoffs, and firing
There can be gray areas in these issues, and there is additional guidance that can make things clearer. For example, employers must permit pregnant employees to perform their job duties as long as they are capable of doing so. They may not deny assignments or promotions, or fire employees based on a pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical conditions. Furthermore, it is not legal to make employment decisions about employee performance that is based on an assumption or stereotype because of an employee’s pregnancy.
There cannot be written/unwritten employment practices and policies that prevent job applicants from being hired or being denied any conditions, privileges, or terms or employment based on a pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical conditions. Singling out a pregnant employee to determine her ability to work is also against the law. It is important to keep in mind that although employers have a duty to protect worker health and safety, they have no extra duty to protect pregnant or potentially pregnant employees from hazardous work conditions. Therefore, if there is a work policy that excludes pregnant employees from certain job responsibilities in order to protect fetuses, that cannot really be challenged.
Pregnant employees cannot face harassment because of their condition, but to be illegal, it has to be severe and frequent enough to create an offensive or hostile work environment. If it leads to an adverse employment situation such as being fired, it could fall under this umbrella. The harassment could come from a supervisor, but it could also come from a co-worker, client, customer, or the CEO of the company. Furthermore, it is also against the law for companies to engage in retaliation against employees who file complaints with the EEOC.
What About My Maternity Leave?
The FMLA allows new parents to take up to 12 weeks unpaid or accrued/earned paid leave to care for a new child. To qualify, the employee must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months. In addition, employers are required to keep the employee’s job open for the same period that they would for workers who go on sick leave or disability. In other words, if company policy states that employees who are on temporary leave for disability or sickness receive six weeks pay, this must also apply to pregnant employees. Companies are also prohibited from have policies that disallow employees from returning to work for specified lengths of time after giving birth.
Pregnant female employees who have complications before childbirth can also quality for temporary disability and must be treated in the same ways as other employees facing short-term disabilities. These women may be able to continue working but may need to request reasonable accommodations. If a pregnancy-related impairment such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes is affecting the employee’s ability to perform her job responsibilities, the employer may be able to switch the employee to a position that is not as taxing on the body. However, the modifications should not cause the employer undue hardship, such as a significant loss of profit or a substantial investment that they cannot afford.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against based on your pregnancy, keep a record of all the events, even if they seem insignificant. This information should not be kept in your office; keep it at home. You can contact the EEOC to make a complaint, and they will direct you what to do from there. They may get involved in the case to help you reach a settlement, but in other situations the services of an experienced employment lawyer are needed.
Cherry Hill Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C., Protect Pregnant Employees from Workplace Discrimination
If you believe that your employer has harassed or discriminated against you because of your pregnancy, childbirth, or medical condition that is related to either, the caring, experienced Cherry Hill employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C., can provide trusted legal guidance. 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.