Pregnancy Discrimination: What You Need to Know
Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is a unique problem faced by women, and one that employers should be careful to avoid. The law recognizes that women own the right to both pursue careers and build families at their discretion, and protections exist accordingly to prohibit employment actions that discriminate against pregnant employees. Federal law dictates that pregnant women be provided the same accommodations as employees with other temporary disabilities. This may include permitting shifts to lighter duties, granting time off and holding a pregnant employee’s position open while she is on leave.
What Is Pregnancy Discrimination?
Pregnancy discrimination is the unfavorable treatment of female employees or applicants on the basis that they are pregnant. Examples of unfavorable treatment include the following:
- Refusing to hire a job applicant because she is pregnant
- Terminating an employee because she becomes pregnant
- Moving an employee to another area because she is pregnant
- Denying a pregnant employee the same provisions that are extended to employees with different temporary disabilities
Actions intended to be in the employee’s best interest may still be discriminatory. For example, if an employer requires a pregnant employee to go on leave or to take on lighter duties, this may be a case of discrimination if the action is taken against the employee’s will and is inconsistent with the employer’s actions and attitude toward similarly capable employees who are not pregnant.
Pregnancy Discrimination and the Law
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, protects employees and applicants against pregnancy discrimination in all aspects of employment, including hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, assignments and benefits. Title VII applies to all employers with 15 or more employees and to employment agencies of any size.
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 guarantees leave time due to pregnancy for employees who have worked for at least 12 months for an employer with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. Complaints involving violations of the FMLA may be filed with the Department of Labor within two years of the incident, although this period may be extended to three years if the violation can be proven to have been willful.
Pregnancy as a Temporary Disability
The PDA dictates that employees who become temporarily unable to work due to pregnancy be treated the same as other employees who become temporarily disabled. For example, an employee who is recovering from surgery and temporarily unable to perform his or her usual duties involving heavy lifting may be granted leave or alternative assignments during the recuperation period. If so, an employee who is similarly limited by pregnancy or a related medical condition must be offered the same accommodations. Title VII does not actually require employers to provide leave or benefits in either case. It only requires that any policy be applied equally. If employees are not granted leave for other short-term disabilities, then neither are employees who are pregnant.
A pregnant employee may be denied temporary disability accommodations if a medical provider is not able to confirm her disability status, but an employer may not demand that she present medical documentation unless it requires the same of employees with other short-term disabilities.
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 entitles new parents to take 12 weeks of leave per year for reasons relating to pregnancy or childcare. This may include time off to recover from childbirth or to bond with a new child. The employer must hold the employee’s position open for the same length of time as it does for employees who go on leave for other disabilities. The FMLA covers both female and male parents, including adoptive parents. A male employee may take this leave if he is the primary caregiver to a mother with a serious pregnancy-related condition or if he is using the time to provide care to a child within the first year of birth or adoption. The FMLA does not require that this leave be paid. Employees may use accrued paid vacation time to cover their leave.
Any health insurance offered by an employer must include coverage for pregnancy and related medical conditions. All terms and conditions for pregnancy-related costs must be the same as for other medical costs. Employer plans are not required to cover expenses for abortion except where the life of the mother is at risk. Employees must be afforded the same level of benefits for pregnant female spouses as other employees receive for male spouses.
The content on our website is only meant to provide general information and is not legal advice. We make our best efforts to make sure the information is accurate, but we cannot guarantee it. Do not rely on the content as legal advice. For assistance with legal problems or for a legal inquiry please contact you attorney.