Pregnancy Discrimination

While you and your family may find your new pregnancy to be joyful news, some women find it difficult to break the news to their employer. Fortunately, women in the United States are protected against pregnancy discrimination in the workplace by federal and state laws. The federal government has deemed pregnancy a "temporary disability," and employers are required to treat it as such.

A new pregnancy will take some getting used to, and women may have to test the flexibility of her employer to see how well their pregnancy will be accommodated. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which includes the subsequent Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), protects against this form of sex discrimination. In the interview stage, an employer cannot ask a potential employee if she is currently pregnant, or is planning to become pregnant in the future. If she is pregnant, the employer cannot refuse to hire her based on this. For current employees, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects pregnant women from being fired or demoted, being treated differently than other employees (without her consent), refusing medical insurance coverage to a pregnant spouse (if other spouses are covered), being penalized for missed work due to scheduled doctor visits or sick days, or denying a job after returning from maternity leave.

There are some restrictions on this protection, for instance, if the employer has fewer than 15 employees. In addition, some states have different requirements regarding pregnancy discrimination. The Family Leave Act of 1993 ensures that any employee, who has worked at their company (of at least 50 employees) for 12 months, can retain their job after a 12 week (unpaid) leave, for any serious condition, including pregnancy. Men can also benefit from the FLA by using it to care for a new baby or spouse who has just had a baby. This can also vary from state to state, and if your leave is unpaid or paid is determined by your company.

Telling Your Employer

Some women feel comfortable enough to break the news of a pregnancy early on, without fear of discrimination or reprisal. Others may choose to keep it private until necessary. Even then, it is personal, and you have every expectation of your employer keeping it confidential. Consult your employer's policy on maternity leave and pregnancy in the workplace, and notify human resources when you are ready. This may be necessary if you feel uncomfortable speaking to your direct supervisor about it.

Accommodating Pregnancy in the Workplace

By law, your employer must accommodate your pregnancy, as it is legally considered a temporary disability. Remember, your employer cannot force you to take maternity leave as long as you can still perform at work. For a job that involves heavy, strenuous work, and depending on the law in your state, your employer will be required to provide a light duty work assignment for you until you return from maternity leave. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ and Organization of Teratology Information Services (OTIS) http://www.otispregnancy.org/ are excellent resources for helping you and your employer determine what is safe for you during your pregnancy.

Maternity Leave

After you've notified your employer about your pregnancy, review your company's policy for maternity leave. If the following conditions apply to you, and depending on your state, the Family Leave Act applies to your situation:

  • You are employed with a company that has at least 50 or more employees, or you work for a public agency.
  • You have worked at your company for the last year.
  • You have met a minimum of 1250 hours worked in the last year.

If these apply to you, you may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and your job is protected upon your return. If your situation does not fall under these guidelines, you may have other options. In some states, you may qualify for short term disability. Some women are lucky enough to have paid maternity leave included in their benefits package, but for those who don't, they may have to resort to using paid sick days or vacation time.

Keep track of your state's family leave law, as well as any applications you make for short term disability, Family Leave, vacation time or maternity leave. Document any conversations or written communication you have with your employer or the human resources department regarding your maternity leave or time off. This will protect you should any conflict arise.

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