Between October 2010 and September 2015, government agencies received nearly 31,000 charges of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. One of the most common complaints was that employers fired them because they were pregnant. Since the passing of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978, workplace discrimination against pregnant women has been illegal in the United States. However, with many employers still seeing pregnancy as a “problem”, the first step towards fairness is knowing your rights. Here’s what you need to know:
1. You Can’t Be Fired Simply Because You’re Pregnant
In some cases, employers attempt to disguise their discrimination behind so-called good intentions. For example, they cite safety concerns. In others, the discrimination is far more blatant. What’s important to remember, though, that either way is illegal. Employers can’t fire or deny a promotion to pregnant women as long as she is able to perform the major functions required by her job. NOTE: Legally speaking, an employer isn’t required to make it easier for pregnant women to do their job.
2. You Can’t Be Forced to Change Jobs or Take Time As Long As You Can Do Your Job
Sometimes, employers reassign a new parent or a pregnant woman to a less strenuous job, thinking that it’s in the best interest of the employee, and, of course, to keep themselves protected from liabilities. Employment decisions, however, cannot be based on assumptions about the health concerns or capabilities of a pregnant woman.
For example, an employer cannot deny a pregnant woman a promotion because of the assumption that she will be less committed toward her job once she returns to work after childbirth. Similarly, a company cannot reassign pregnant workers to less desirable jobs, even if it’s temporary, due to concerns about their health and pregnancy.
3. You Can Take Part of Your Maternity Leave While Still Pregnant
According to the Family and Medical Leave Act, pregnant women can take part of their maternity leave during pregnancy if they are unable to work due to physical constraints. Your job is protected for 12 weeks in total, which includes time before and after birth. The FMLA is applicable if:
• You are employed in a company with a workforce of 50 or more employees, or
• You work for federal, state or local government, and
• Have been working for your employer for a year and at least 1,250 hours during the preceding 12 months.
4. Your Pregnancy Should Be Seen As Any Other Medical Condition or Employee Disability
If you are employed in a company with a workforce of 15 or more employees, workplace discrimination because of pregnancy-related conditions, childbirth or pregnancy is illegal for your employer. Pregnancy must be treated like any other medical condition or temporary disability.
While discrimination may be hard to prove, keeping records of your discussions with your employer and the actions they took against you, will go a long way in helping your case. Therefore, if you are facing discrimination at work, you are advised to arrange an appointment with an EEOC counselor and begin the process now.