The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978. Even though the so-called PDA has been around for over 35 years, it has not ended the practice of workplace discrimination around the issues of pregnancy.
Here are the essential things to know about what employers of pregnant employees can and cannot do:
- An employee cannot be fired because she’s pregnant. Sometimes, an employer will fire a pregnant employee, implying that they are “looking out for the interests of the mother or the fetus”. This is, in fact, illegal. Decisions about what is “good for” the mother and the baby are to be made by the mother and her health care team, not her bosses.
- A pregnant employee can continue to work for as long as she and her health care provider believe it is safe. An employer is not allowed to force the pregnant employee to take maternity leave prior to childbirth.
- An employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant or even has the potential to be pregnant. Employers want to have a stable work force and can be scared off of hiring a pregnant woman, assuming that she will want time off in the future. Nevertheless, the practice is illegal.
- Accommodation for breastfeeding mothers must be made. One of the components of the Affordable Care Act is that lactating mothers have the right to pump their breast milk in a private place (and by the way, a bathroom doesn’t count). The only catch: if she works in a place with less than 50 employees, her employer is not obligated if the employer insists that providing accommodations is a hardship.
- A pregnant employee may ask for some accommodations, like being able to sit during a shift. This can include changing certain tasks for a short term, similar to what would occur if someone had another short term medical impairment like a back or neck injury or even stitches. Before an employee wants accommodations, they should protect themselves and get a doctor’s certification of recommended accommodations.
Pregnancy discrimination complaints are common. It is important to note that pregnancy discrimination cases are judged in favor of the complainant more often than other types of discrimination cases, like gender, race and sexual orientation.