Pregnancy Discrimination and Laws to Prevent It in the US

Pregnancy Discrimination and Laws to Prevent It in the US

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was signed into law forty years ago, on October 31, 1978. It is meant to stop discrimination against women in the workplace based on pregnancy, childbirth or other medical condition related to it. Since the law was passed, it has enabled more women to continue working while pregnant and even further their pregnancies. Although passing the law was a major step forward, pregnancy discrimination practices continue making it hard for pregnant women at the workplace. If you are pregnant and looking into understanding what pregnancy job discrimination is, continue reading for all you need to know.

What Is Pregnancy Discrimination?

Pregnancy Discrimination on the part of employers can constitute several actions such as treating pregnant employees or applicants unfavourably because of their pregnancy, childbirth or other related conditions. Under the PDA, medical conditions that are related to pregnancy can be considered as a temporary disability. Some examples include severe morning sickness, bed rest ordered by doctor, childbirth, childbirth recovery and a range of other conditions that make it difficult or impossible to work. The employer in such circumstances is required by law to give the same benefits and treatments as they would to other employees who are temporarily disabled.

Pregnancy discrimination can include all of these actions by an employer:

  • Refusing to hire an applicant due to pregnancy.
  • Demoting or firing a pregnant employee.
  • Denying a returning employee who was formerly pregnant the same job or position after her pregnancy-related break.
  • Treating pregnant employee differently/unfairly than other employees with temporary disability.
  • Refusing/failing to grant a male employee the health insurance coverage for his wife’s pregnancy-related condition when his policy has comprehensive coverage under the same company plan.

Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination at the Workplace

Here are some examples of pregnancy discrimination that are potentially illegal:

  • During a job interview, the placement agency inquires about how many children the applicant has and if she is planning to get pregnant again in the near future. The applicant responds that she is four months pregnant. The agency then declines her application and tells her to come back after her child is born, and she is ready to work.
  • A female employee reveals to her boss that she is pregnant and the boss fires her for it although she is able to work normally for a few more months.
  • A pregnant employee working at a fast-food restaurant requests her boss to relieve her from duties requiring her to lift heavy boxes. The boss refuses although another employee who was recovering from surgery was not required to lift heavy boxes. The pregnant employee is forced to quit her job over it.
  • A pregnant employee who needs to take some time off work to visit her doctor for prenatal care is docked and disciplined for missing work time. Other workers going through medical treatments are not docked or disciplined for taking time off work for doctor visits.

Laws Prohibiting Pregnancy Discrimination at Work Place

Two main federal laws prohibit pregnancy discrimination and provide for parenting and disability leaves. The first is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which includes the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1987. The second is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993. Here are the laws that protect against pregnancy discrimination at work:

  • The PDA prohibits discrimination of all types based on pregnancy regarding all aspects of employment such as hiring, firing, job assignments, payment, layoff, promotions, training and fringe benefits such as health insurance and leaves. It also includes discrimination based on any other term or condition of employment.
  • If pregnancy renders a woman unable to perform aspects of her job because of a medical condition related to the pregnancy, the employer must treat her in the same way as a temporarily disabled employee. This means offering her lighter duties, alternative assignments that are within her reach, disability leaves and more. Additionally, conditions during pregnancy that lead to impairments such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia– which is hypertension induced by pregnancy are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Employers must then provide reasonable accommodations that enable her to perform her job plus other benefits.
  • It is unlawful to harass a pregnant woman because of her condition, childbirth, or other conditions related to her pregnancy or childbirth. Harassment can become illegal if the frequency of the harassment gets to the level that it impairs her ability to work or ends up getting the woman fired or demoted. A harasser can be anyone within the team, someone from a different area or a person not employed by the employer, such as a client.
  • Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employers who allow temporarily disabled employees to take a disability leave without pay must allow a pregnant woman who is temporarily disabled due to pregnancy-related conditions to do the same. The employers should not single out conditions related to pregnancy for special procedures to make a determination of the employee’s ability to work. However if the company policy requires the employees to submit a doctor’s certificate that pertains to their ability to work before granting sick benefits or leave, then the employee with the pregnancy-related condition will have to submit such a certificate. Further, under the FMLA, new parents, including adoptive and foster parents, are eligible for 12 weeks if it used for childcare for the new child. To be eligible for this, the employer must have a certain number of employees, and the employee applying for the leave must have worked there for 12 months.
  • Pregnant employees enjoy more rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which the U.S. Department of Labor enforces. Some of them include provisions for nursing mothers in the workplace to express milk and other rights that help them perform their maternal duties.
  • Depending on the particular instance, pregnancy discrimination can violate any of the Family and Medical Leave Act, Title VII, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities act or even all of them. The protection is given under the laws only goes so far as how much the employees qualify for it.

Authority Responsible for Enforcing the Pregnancy Discrimination Law

The agency that enforces the law depends on the size of the workplace. For organizations with 15 or more employees, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal government agency tasked with handling pregnancy discrimination cases. For organizations with 50 or more employees, the Department of Labor undertakes investigations of family and medical leave discrimination charges.

Who Is Covered Under Federal Law for Pregnancy Discrimination

The amended Title VII of the PDA protects pregnant women from discrimination based on past pregnancy, current pregnancy, potential pregnancy or an intended pregnancy along with medical conditions associated with pregnancy and childbirth. These laws are applicable to women who qualify for disability leave under company policy it and are working for employers who have 15 or more employees, or women who work for an employment agency or labour union.

The FMLA covers both female and male employees who have been working for an employer with over 50 employees for at least a year. It allows them to take unpaid leaves to care for newborn babies, newly-adopted babies or even seriously ill family members.

Facts About the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 under Title VII. Under Title VII, discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth and associated medical condition is considered unlawful sex discrimination. Pregnant women who are affected by pregnancy-related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other employees with disabilities with the same level of ability or inability to work. So what does the pregnancy discrimination act cover under it? Here are broad categories:

1. Hiring and Working Conditions

Employers cannot refuse to employ a pregnant woman because of her pregnancy-related medical condition as long as she is able to perform the important aspects of her job. Rejection of pregnant women based on prejudices against pregnant workers or similar attitudes of workers, clients and customers is also unlawful. Pregnancy discrimination on all other employment aspects such as payment, job assignments, layoffs, promotions, training and other benefits is also forbidden under the PDA.

2. Pregnancy and Maternity leave

Pregnant employees must be allowed to work as long as they are able to stay in their jobs. In the event that an employee is absent from work due to a pregnancy-related condition and returns after recovers, the employer cannot require her to stay on leave until childbirth. Employers cannot set any predetermined length of time after childbirth that prohibits them from returning to work. Further, employers who allow temporarily disabled employees to take leave because of their disability without pay must also do the same for pregnant employees with temporary disabilities as well. Employers are also required to hold the job open for the pregnant employee who has been absent similar to how they would hold the job open for other temporarily disabled employees.

3. Pregnancy and Temporary Disability

If a pregnant employee is unable to perform her job due to a pregnancy-associated condition, the employer must treat her like any other employee with a temporary disability and provide her with modified tasks, lighter duty, alternative assignments, leave without pay or disability leave.

Further, if the pregnancy leaves them with impairments such as gestational diabetes with preeclampsia, the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodation. For example, if the pregnant employee has a 20-pound lifting restriction due to sciatica, the employer will be required to provide modified duties or alternate job assignments.

4. Health Insurance

Health insurance provided by the employer must cover pregnancy-related conditions similar to the expenses of other conditions. The exclusion to this, according to PDA, are costs arising from abortions, except if it puts the life of the mother at risk. The reimbursement of pregnancy-related expenses should be done in the same manner as reimbursement for other medical conditions, whether the payment is made on a fixed basis or a customary charge basis. The total amount payable will also be restricted to the expenses as the other conditions, and no additional deductible will be imposed. Further, the benefits for medical costs can be denied under Title VII if the plan excludes benefit payments for pre-existing conditions. However, there could be state laws that may apply to the coverage of preexisting conditions. Finally, the benefits provided to male employees’ spouses should be the same as for female employees’ spouses.

5. Equal Access to Benefits

Benefits provided to all other workers on medical leave must also be provided to employees who are on medical leave due to pregnancy-related conditions. Benefits also extend to vacation calculation, pay hikes, accrual and crediting seniority, and other temporary disability benefits.

Filing Complaint Under Pregnancy Discrimination Act

If your FMLA rights have been violated, you can begin by filing a grievance (at the union level) or filing a complaint with the Department of Labor (DOL) or in court. It is advisable to hire an attorney before going ahead with it and for advice on where to file and the procedure to draft the complaint. In the event that your case is successfully resolved at the administrative level, there’s no need to hire a pregnancy discrimination lawyer or file a lawsuit.

Generally, pregnancy discrimination cases must be filed either in the court or with DOL within two years of the incident or the last action which you believe is an FMLA violation. The filing date can be extended if it can be proven that the action of the employer was intentional. For the best chance of successfully resolving the issue, the complaint should be filed soon after the FMLA violation.

The merits of the complaint will be reviewed by the DOL and will take appropriate negotiations with the employer to resolve the complaint. There are instances where the DOL is convinced that the FMLA violation did occur and will proceed with filing a case on your behalf provided the negotiations with the employer has failed. In such a case, you won’t have to file your own lawsuit in court.

Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace can occur under many circumstances where the employers choose to engage with pregnant employees in a prejudicial or preferential manner. It can occur in the form of firing pregnant employees, denying accommodations, not hiring pregnant applicants and other subtle forms such as withholding promotions and raises or benefits. Several laws such as the PDA and FMLA exist to fight discrimination and ensure pregnant women enjoy their human rights to their fullest.

Also Read:

Paternity Leave in the US
FMLA Law of Maternity Leave in the US
Pregnancy Test Cost in the US

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