In the workplace, pregnancy discrimination involves treating a female applicant or employee unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment such as hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, and benefits such as health insurance. This pregnancy discrimination law applies to employers with 15 or more employees including state or local governments, employment agencies, labor organizations as well as the federal government.
What Amounts to Pregnancy Discrimination?
Employers are required to provide the same types of benefits to all employees, regardless of whether they are pregnant. For example, when an employer offers various types of employee benefits such as disability benefits or health insurance, it should cover pregnancy and related medical conditions just as it would cover other medical conditions.
The law states that a pregnancy-related condition may be considered a temporary disability. Such conditions may include severe morning sickness, childbirth, recovery from childbirth, complications that lead to doctor-ordered bed rest, etc. Employers are required to treat pregnant employees the same as employees with temporary disabilities or they may open themselves up to a discrimination lawsuit.
Pregnancy discrimination can include the following actions by an employer:
- Refusing to hire a job applicant who is pregnant.
- Firing or demoting a pregnant employee because of her pregnancy.
- Denying the same or similar job to a pregnant employee when she returns from a pregnancy-related leave.
- Treating a pregnant employee differently than others who are temporarily disabled.
- Not granting a male employee health insurance coverage for his wife or partner's pregnancy-related conditions.
Similarly, if a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job duties because of pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition, the employer is required to treat her the same way as other employees who are temporarily disabled. The employer would then be required to make accommodations such as modified tasks, alternative job assignments, disability leave or unpaid leave.
Knowing Your Workplace Pregnancy Rights
It is important to know and understand your rights as an employee especially as they relate to pregnancy discrimination.
Telling Your Employer
Remember that an employer cannot refuse to hire you because of your pregnancy as long as you are still able to perform your job duties. Employers are prohibited under the law from discriminating against you because of their own prejudices. An employer certainly cannot ask you questions about whether you are pregnant or plan to have children in the future. If you are early in your pregnancy and are not yet showing, you have a right to keep that information to yourself. Even if you choose to share that information with the employer or if the employer can see that you're pregnant, they cannot make employment decisions based on that knowledge.
If you are currently employed, you may want to notify your employer that you are pregnant once you feel comfortable doing so. Before that, if you don't need leave for pregnancy-related sickness and are able to perform your job duties, you may choose not to divulge the information to your employer just yet.
It may be best to consult with your supervisor, company handbook, or other resources to determine your company's policies regarding the type of leave you would be eligible for. If your company requires you to provide advance notification to utilize any kind of leave, it is important that you comply with those notification requirements even if you have to disclose to your employer that you are pregnant.
Doing Your Job
An employer cannot require an employee to take leave simply because she is pregnant as long as she is able to fulfill her job duties. Pregnant employees should be allowed to work as long as they are able to perform their jobs. An employer also cannot move you to another position or otherwise change your job description simply because you are pregnant. However, if you request a different assignment, then the employer should treat the request just like they would treat similar requests made by other temporarily disabled employees.
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), new moms have the right to pump breast milk at work in a safe place. A company cannot fire or discriminate against a woman because she is lactating. The ACA requires employers to provide reasonable breaks to new mothers to pump breast milk for up to one year after a child's birth. Employers are also required to provide a safe and private place other than a restroom to do so.
This refers to a broad range of conduct or behavior that is illegal. Unwelcome conduct is unlawful when it is so severe or pervasive that it leads to a hostile work environment. Pregnancy-based harassment may come from the employee's supervisor, a co-worker or even a client or a customer. Pregnancy-based sexual harassment may be committed by men, women, or both.
Harassment may include inappropriate comments about the employee's body or physical appearance; questions or comments about the employee's sexual activity or use of contraception; comments about her job performance after becoming pregnant; or insinuations that she should take leave or shouldn't return to work. Harassment based on miscarriage, abortion or breastfeeding is also prohibited under the law.
What Should I Do If My Rights Have Been Violated?
If you believe you have been harassed or discriminated against at work because of your pregnancy or a related condition, it would be in your best interest to take a number of steps to protect your rights. Keep a good record of the details including dates, time, places, and witnesses. Keep a copy of your notes at home where it is readily accessible. If you are in a union, talk to a union representative. Keep a record of your work. Save copies of your evaluations as well as any emails or memos that show you are good at what you do. This is because, sometimes, supervisors may defend their actions by saying that your job performance wasn't satisfactory.
Take time for yourself. Build a support network of friends and family members who are empathetic. Find a way to minimize stress, eat healthily and get plenty of rest. Contact an experienced Los Angeles employment attorney who will remain on your side, fight for your rights, and help ensure that you receive maximum compensation for your losses.