More than 68 million women are in the United States workforce, and about 75% of them will become pregnant at some point during their employment. Prior to the passing of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, it was not uncommon for an employer to simply fire a pregnant employee so the employer would not lose productivity due to missed shifts and childcare obligations; the employer could start training a replacement after discovering an employee’s pregnancy.
The Amended Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act contains the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and prohibits termination of employment or any other form of workplace discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical conditions. However, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act only applies to employers with more than 15 employees. The logic behind this minimum is that a smaller business likely has a more pressing need to replace an employee who will leave with a medical issue for an extended time, therefore a reasonable and understandable need for a speedy replacement is present.
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an employer may not refuse employment to a job applicant on the basis of her pregnancy or potential to conceive children in the future. Similarly, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act also prohibits the firing of an employee upon discovery of her pregnancy or the denial of promotion on similar grounds.
If a pregnant employee must take time off from work for medical issues or for childbirth, the employer must leave her position open for an equal amount of time as the employer would allow for any other employee with a serious illness or disability. Employers may not alter offered pregnancy-related benefits on the basis of marital status as well.
The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor upholds the Fair Labor Standards Act (FSLA) to ensure pregnant employees receive appropriate and reasonable accommodations for their pregnancies while still at work. These accommodations generally pertain to breaks to pump breastmilk for nursing infants. The FLSA requires employers to allow necessary breaks for pumping breastmilk for one year or longer depending on how long the employee must continue pumping.
The employer must offer a break room that is not a bathroom for these breaks. The room must be completely shielded from the outside view of both coworkers and the public in the case of customer-facing businesses. Some states have additional laws that offer extended break times, compensation for necessary breaks, or longer time windows for taking such breaks. The FLSA does not preempt those state laws but instead acts as a baseline.
The FLSA also prohibits employer retaliation, or the adverse treatment of any pregnant employee who requests reasonable accommodations afforded by federal and state employment laws. Retaliation takes many possible forms.
These are only a few examples; workplace discrimination and retaliation happen in many ways and employees affected by these unethical actions should take appropriate action.
Any form of pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex-based discrimination and is unacceptable in any workplace. If you suspect an employer has taken adverse work-related actions against you on the basis of your pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition, the first step to solving the problem is filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
The EEOC investigates all reports of workplace discrimination and harassment on the basis of protected status such as race, religion, sex, or pregnancy status. An employment attorney can also be a great resource for additional information and assist with the EEOC claims process.