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7 Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace

7 Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace

7 Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace

7 Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace

by Steven I. Azizi 16/09/2021

The 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) in the United States forbids employers from discriminating against pregnant employees in the workplace. The PDA protects pregnant workers from being discriminated against in workplaces with more than 15 workers. Similarly, in the European Union, the Pregnant Workers Directive (PWD) 92/85 protects the rights of women workers during and after pregnancy.

Employers cannot discriminate on the basis of (past, current, or future) pregnancy, childbirth, or a related health condition in any aspect related to pregnant workers’ jobs, including recruitment & dismissal, training, duties, salary, promotion, health insurance, etc. Yes, the PDA in the United States doesn’t just protect pregnant women. It also forbids discrimination on the basis of medical conditions caused by childbirth or pregnancy.

The PDA has been a federal law for over four decades now. Unfortunately, cases of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace continue to pour in. According to reports published by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the total number of pregnancy discrimination claims in the United States increased sharply by 65% during 1992-2007 and 50% during 1997-2011. In 2016, the commission reported having received more than three thousand pregnancy discrimination charges.

Such discrimination in the workplace is often under-reported because most women do not understand what constitutes pregnancy discrimination and how to fight it with the help of a pregnancy discrimination attorney. Here in this post, we will look at seven most common examples of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace: 



1. Refusing to hire someone because they are pregnant – or plan to start a family

When a job applicant is pregnant or intends to become pregnant, a company cannot refuse to hire them for such reasons. The PDA also forbids hiring managers from asking job applicants about their childbearing plans.  

Job applicants, however, can ask about the company’s health insurance coverage, maternity leave benefits, and short-term disability coverage. In general, employers cannot make hiring decisions based on whether you are single, married, divorced, have kids, or plan to get pregnant.

Many companies try to justify such discrimination by saying they are only looking to hire someone who can continue working without any interruptions.

Hiring managers may have numerous such biased assumptions about how a female worker will perform during her pregnancy or weeks following childbirth. Hiring decisions made on the basis of such assumptions are illegal.



2. Not Providing Reasonable Accommodations


The employer is required by law to provide reasonable accommodation if a woman is experiencing pregnancy-related complications. If a worker is unable to perform specific tasks due to a medical condition or impairment during pregnancy or after childbirth, employers are bound by law to make reasonable accommodations.

Some common examples of reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees are:

  • Temporarily assigning a light-duty assignment to a pregnant worker who is experiencing back pain
  • Modifying a pregnant employee’s work schedule because she experiences severe morning sickness
  • Moving a pregnant worker’s workstation closer to the restroom
  • Providing a stool or chair at a pregnant worker’s workstation so that she doesn’t have to stand on her feet all the time

In most cases, pregnant workers need to submit a doctor’s note/certificate. Once the medical condition has been documented, employers need to make necessary accommodations.



3. Not Providing a Private Place to Pump Breast Milk 

In the US, companies with at least 50 employees are bound by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) – earlier known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – to provide a safe and private place, other than restrooms, to women employees who have been recently pregnant to pump breast milk.

The PDA also considers lactation as a medical condition associated with pregnancy. So, employers cannot discriminate against someone expressing breast milk in the workplace.

The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) also offers significant protection to nursing mothers. This act makes it mandatory for employers to provide reasonable break time during work shifts to recently-pregnant workers (up to one year after childbirth) to pump breast milk.  However, companies are not required by law to compensate such workers for this time.

Pregnant and recently pregnant workers are offered similar protections in the European Union through Directive 92/85 EEC.



4. Verbal Harassment


Occasional annoying comments in the workplace aren’t illegal. But, if you are subject to jokes, insults, or negative comments that amount to creating a hostile work environment, you may be at the receiving end of ‘illegal’ harassment in the workplace.

Negative comments about how pregnancy is affecting your performance may also constitute illegal harassment.

When in doubt, consider talking to an experienced lawyer specializing in pregnancy discrimination claims.



5. Firing Someone Because They Are Pregnant


Some companies terminate employment contracts of pregnant women. They tend to assume that a pregnant worker wouldn’t be able to complete her tasks or the new baby would interfere with an employee’s work routine.

Some employers may even have the notion that a particular job (e.g. lifting heavy objects in a warehouse) is not suitable for a pregnant woman.  

Employers cannot discriminate like this even if they wholeheartedly believe that the decision is in the best interest of the pregnant worker. It is up to the employee or her physician to make a decision on what’s best for her.



6. Not Considering a Pregnant Employee for Promotion


Some people like to think that a woman won’t be fully committed to a senior position once she has had a child. Regardless of the kind of stereotypes they want to hold on to in the 21st century, employers cannot refuse to promote an employee just because she recently gave birth to a child.

It is also illegal to ask workers to take some time off due to past or current pregnancy. Reassigning a worker during pregnancy or after childbirth may also be illegal if it’s against their wishes.



7. Retaliation for Filing a Discrimination Claim


Retaliation against an employee just because she filed a pregnancy discrimination claim, is among the most common forms of discrimination according to the EEOC.

After an employee files a discrimination charge, she may start getting poor performance reviews. Some companies may even fire, demote or verbally harass the employee.

Such retaliation against pregnant or recently-pregnant employees is illegal. Documenting such incidents or collecting relevant evidence can help you strengthen your case against the employer. 

by Steven I. Azizi 16/09/2021

Steven is the Senior Partner and co-founder of Miracle Mile Law Group. Steven always knew his calling involved helping ordinary people, not corporations, so he started Miracle Mile Law Group, where he exclusively represents employees in claims against their employers.

Steven A. Izizi, Esq.

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