Under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, pregnant individuals or those who are likely to become pregnant cannot be fired or discriminated against. This means that it is illegal for you to be fired, not hired or promoted, and denied work due to a pregnancy-related issue.
Pregnancy discrimination is far too common in the US. Only 12 states have laws on paid maternity leave. In addition to the poor compensation mothers, parents, and caregivers receive from the government, pregnant women have little protection from pregnancy discrimination.
Even if you need to miss work or cannot perform a certain task because of your pregnancy, you cannot be fired. Pregnancy discrimination puts both mothers and families in danger, and should be handled immediately.
This article will show you the legal rights you have working while pregnant, the Family and Medical Leave Act, and pregnancy discrimination.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (1993)
US law prohibits any employer with 15 or more employees cannot discriminate or harass pregnant individuals. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), any workplace in the US with 50 employees or more must comply with this law along with their own state laws.
The FMLA requires employers to pay their pregnant employees at least 12 weeks of paid leave. As long as an employee has worked for the company for at least 12 months, they qualify for the FMLA pregnancy benefits. The paid leave offered by the FMLA can be used for any pregnancy-related medical leave including childbirth.
During this 12 week period, your job cannot be given away. Many employers will constitute this time of leave as a “no call no show” if you cannot come into work due to your pregnancy. If your employer attempts to wrongfully fire you for a no call no show, speak with your HR representative or an employment lawyer.
Paid Maternity Leave
Currently in 2020, only 12 states have laws on paid maternity leave or family leave:
- New Jersey
- Rhode Island
- New York
Each of these states have different caps on the extent of protection and work compensation. All states clearly state that new mothers and caregivers have time to bond and care for their newborns for a limited period of time.
As of July 1, 2020 the District of Columbia will effectively implement Bill 21-415. This bill states that any person working in the DC area will receive 16 weeks of paid family and maternity leave.
Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination
Pregnancy discrimination is a widely expreinced phenomenon within many workplaces. If you’re working while pregnant or currently looking for a job while pregnant, your employer cannot discriminate against your pregnancy. This includes, but is not limited to:
Firing a pregnant employee
If you are pregnant or may become pregnant, your employer cannot fire you for anything pregnancy-related. In accordance with the FMLA, employers cannot discriminate against you by replacing you while you’re on leave.
Refusing to hire a pregnant employee
Employers who refuse to hire women based on a pregnancy or the assumption that an employee may become pregnant is discrimination. However, if you are hired by an employer while you’re pregnant, you do not qualify for the FMLA benefits. Employees must work for at least 12 months before they qualify for the FMLA benefits. However, if your employer has their own employee benefits with maternity leave, you can use that if you qualify.
Refusing to make reasonable adjustments
There are limited things pregnant women can do. These restrictions protect both mother and baby, and are normally cleared by a doctor beforehand. The further along in your pregnancy, the more your job will need to change temporarily.
Your employer cannot refuse to comply with these changes and put both yours and your baby’s life at risk. These must be reasonable requests often made through your HR department. This can include allowing an employee to sit over stand to changing the schedule if the pregnant employee experiences morning sickness.
Changing employee expectations
Similarly with reasonable adjustments, pregnant women may become slower or unable to perform certain tasks at a certain point in their pregnancy. For example, this could mean adjusting employee expectations to lessen production if the pregnant employee has difficulty with their speed. Another common adjustment is allowing pregnant employees to opt-out of highly dangerous or laborious jobs.
Harassment against pregnant women can include actions from both employers and fellow employees discriminating, insulting, or intimidating pregnant employees. For example, fellow employees who make inappropriate comments or jokes about pregnant employees pumping breast milk while on shift. Although many would argue that these are just light-hearted jokes, they create a hostile and stressful work environment for the pregnant employee.
What To Do About Pregnancy Discrimination
Even if you think you’re overreacting, take notes on all the instances where you felt your rights were violated. Bring these issues up with your HR department, and speak to them about possible solutions.
These solutions could be a number for things. For example, granting extra time off work to compensate for their medical needs, or conducting a workplace seminar on harassment.
If you’re pregnant and have been discriminated against or had your rights violated, and your HR department refuses to help, call a lawyer. My Case Helper works with employment lawyers across the US, and can offer free legal advice to anyone who calls.