Don’t Let Employers Discriminate Against You Because You’re Pregnant

Posted October 15, 2009 in Labor and Employment by

It’s a common story: A woman is a superstar at work, but as soon as she announces that she’s pregnant, she’s falls out of favor with her supervisors. Or a woman goes on maternity leave, only to get laid off while she was away from her job. Or a woman applies for a job, but the prospective employer seems to lose interest when they learn she is pregnant.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against you because of your pregnancy. Unfortunately, many companies fail to heed the law.

The PDA says that discrimination due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions is unlawful sex discrimination. It requires employers to treat pregnant women in the same way as other job applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations.

The PDA covers hiring, pregnancy and maternity leave, health insurance and fringe benefits. Under the PDA:

  • An employer cannot refuse to hire you because of your pregnancy as long as you can do the major functions of the job
  • If you are temporarily unable to do your job because of your pregnancy, your employer must treat you the same as any other temporarily disabled employee. For example, the employer should provide modified tasks, alternative assignments, disability leave or leave without pay.
  • Your employer must permit you to work as long as you are able to do your job
  • Your employer must hold open a job for a pregnancy-related absence for the same length of time jobs are held open for employees on sick or disability leave
  • If your employer provides health insurance to its employees, the insurance has to cover expenses for pregnancy-related conditions on the same basis as it does for other medical conditions
  • Pregnancy-related benefits must be available to all employees, regardless of marital status
  • You should be treated the same as other temporarily disabled employees for purposes of crediting of seniority, vacation calculation, pay increases or temporary disability benefits

Documenting Your Case

If you think you are or will be discriminated against because of your pregnancy:

  • Write down all relevant details, including the date, time and place and what was said during discriminatory conversations. Include the names of participants and witnesses, and keep a copy of these notes at home.
  • Continue to do your job, and start documenting how well you’re performing
  • Copy your performance reviews and other evidence that shows how well you’ve done your job, and store those copies at home
  • If you belong to a union, contact your union representative to find out whether you can file a grievance or if there’s another complaint process
  • Talk to your human resources department to file a complaint or learn about the company process for filing a complaint
  • Call a local women’s rights or civil rights group for help

Proving a PDA Violation

If you’re unable to resolve the problem through dispute resolution processes at your company or with your union, you may have to file a complaint with a government agency. You can file charges against the employer with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and with state or local agencies that enforce anti-discrimination laws. There are very short time limits on how long you can wait to file a charge against your employer, so it’s important to act quickly when making an EEOC complaint.

To prove pregnancy discrimination, you must first show that your employer knew you were pregnant. You must also show that, because of the pregnancy, your employer took some adverse employment action against you or denied you benefits that other employees received. You may also win your case if you can show your employer systematically discriminated against pregnant employees and/or job applicants. You’re not required to prove that your employer acted intentionally or with any ill will.

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