Pregnant In The Workplace: Know Your Rights

Cropped shot of a pregnant businesswoman using a laptop in an office

Pregnancy can be the start of a great new chapter in your life, but your employer might see things otherwise. Unfortunately, many businesses still believe pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is perfectly acceptable, despite federal regulations and changing cultural attitudes. Even if you work in an incredibly supportive office, you may be surprised to find your job duties change – or worse, your position “terminated” – after coming back from maternity leave.

Here’s what every woman needs to know about her rights in the workplace when pregnant:

Employers are federally prohibited from discriminating against you if you are pregnant.”

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects you during and after pregnancy

Enacted in 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to cover discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.” Essentially, this means employers are federally prohibited from discriminating against you if you are pregnant, trying to become pregnant or have recently given birth. This means that:

  • You can’t lose your job on the basis of your pregnancy.
  • You can’t be bypassed for a promotion because you’re pregnant.
  • You can’t be fired for taking leave while pregnant.
  • You can’t lose benefits if you are pregnant but not married.
  • Your position can’t be eliminated or given to someone else just because you are pregnant.
  • Employers cannot refuse to hire you because you are pregnant.

You may also be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, especially if you experience complications. Employers must make reasonable accommodations to modify your workload when you’re pregnant, just as they would a person with an injury or disability.

This means, for example, that an employer can’t reprimand you for taking more frequent bathroom breaks.

Keep in mind, however, that the PDA and ADA only apply to employers with 15 or more employees. If your company does not meet this criteria, check your local laws to see if they protect your rights in the workplace when pregnant. Even if they don’t, you may find support from a local women’s or civil rights group.

Finally, you’re also protected by the Family Medical Leave Act, which allows you to leave for 12 weeks to care for yourself or an ailing family member. Yes, this includes yourself during pregnancy and your baby after he or she is born, meaning you can take FMLA leave even before you give birth.

That said, you still need to meet the following requirements in order to qualify for FMLA:

  • You must work for an employer with at least 50 employees.
  • You must have worked for this employer for at least 12 months within the past seven years.
  • Your time worked in the past 12 months, not including sick or vacation days, must meet or exceed 1,250 hours.

If you don’t meet these requirements, talk to your human resources department about the company’s maternity leave policy.

A pregnant woman working at a desk.Many federal regulations protect you from pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

What to do if you experience pregnancy discrimination

Unfortunately, even though discriminating against pregnant women in the workplace is illegal in the majority of cases, many women still encounter such hardships. According to a report from the National Partnership for Women and Families, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and various state-level fair employment agencies received nearly 31,000 charges of pregnancy discrimination between fiscal years 2011 and 2015. These charges included wrongdoings such as:

  • Disciplining or discharging pregnant women.
  • Refusing to provide reasonable accommodations.
  • Harassing pregnant women.
  • Enforcing discriminatory terms of employment.

If you find yourself in such a situation, there are a number of steps you can take to receive justice:

  • Write down what happened, including the date, time, location, what was said and as many other details as you can remember. For your peace of mind, store this document (or a copy) someplace outside of your workplace and off company property (that is, not a work computer or tablet).
  • If you’re in a union, discuss the situation with your representative.
  • Consult your human resources department. These people are responsible for properly handling the situation.
  • If HR doesn’t help, you may want to bring your case to a women’s or civil rights group.
  • If you plan to file a charge with the EEOC, you’ll need to do so within 180 days in most cases. You don’t need a lawyer for this, and you can file a charge even if you no longer work with the company.

Discrimination has no place in the office, and pregnant women shouldn’t be subjected to such hardships when they’re about to enter motherhood.