Fighting Pregnancy Discrimination

Posted December 7, 2012 in Labor and Employment by


Women are the primary or co-primary earners in two-thirds of American households. Their income is essential to the well-being of their families. Many of these women get pregnant. In spite of evidence that shows that pregnancy is no bar to women’s full and equal participation in the workforce, many employers actively or passively attempt to push pregnant women out of the workplace.

The women most often affected are those who can least weather the loss of their jobs – low-wage workers in the services industry.

Despite federal and state laws, the number of claims of pregnancy discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is steadily increasing. The agency has resolved 52,000 pregnancy cases since 2001, with $150.5 million paid out in damages.


Current Laws on Pregnancy

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 prohibits employers with 15 or more workers from discriminating based on pregnancy or childbirth. Pregnant women must be allowed to work as long as they are able, with any absences treated the same as any other disability leave.

Although the PDA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for being pregnant, they are not required to make an accommodation. Some states have done this on their own.

Some protections are also provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).


EEOC Steps Up Enforcement for Pregnant Workers

In 2012, the EEOC announced a plan to target employers who continue to illegally discriminate against pregnant workers, making this effort a national priority.

The EEOC plans to give employers fresh guidance to make clear that the 35-year-old PDA prevents employers from firing, refusing to hire or otherwise discriminating against a worker because she is pregnant. Many smaller employers are unaware of the law’s full scope. As part of this effort, the EEOC is also filing a significant number of new lawsuits.


Proposed Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate in September 2012. It borrows the “reasonable accommodations” framework of the ADA. It would require accommodations for employees limited by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

Accommodations could include providing stools for pregnant employees whose jobs require a lot of standing, allowing pregnant workers to carry water bottles on the job, modifying lifting requirements or reassigning nonessential tasks.

The bill would also prohibit employers from firing employees because of pregnancy, or requiring them to take pregnancy leave.


An Employment Lawyer Can Help

The law surrounding pregnancy and employment is complicated and constantly evolving, and the facts of each case are unique. You can contact an employment attorney through to discuss any claims for possible pregnancy discrimination, which you may have experienced. 


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