Pregnancy is usually a time of joy. However, it can be a source of great anxiety if the pregnant woman is experiencing pregnancy discrimination, which may have devastating consequences for women and their families. Women who are discriminated against because they are or might become pregnant can lose essential income. If they are discharged or have their hours cut, they may also lose their health insurance and other benefits just when their expenses are increasing, and the family finances are already stretched.
What is pregnancy discrimination?
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is a federal law enacted in 1978 as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It states that “discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII, which covers employers with 15 or more employees, including state and local governments.” Fundamentally it means that women who are pregnant or are dealing with conditions related to pregnancy must be treated the same way as other employees or candidates who have similar work abilities or limitations. Employers are not permitted to discriminate based on the fact that an employee is pregnant, was pregnant, or could become pregnant (or intend to). They are also not permitted to discriminate if the woman has a medical condition related to pregnancy or had or is considering an abortion. The California law applies to more businesses. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of a woman’s pregnancy by employers with five or more employees.
Pregnancy discrimination comes in many forms and under many circumstances. A woman suffers pregnancy discrimination in the workplace when her pregnancy, childbirth, or a medical condition related to her pregnancy or childbirth, negatively affects her pay, benefits, promotions, work hours, or ability to take time for medical appointments. It may also occur when others in the workplace make offensive or intimidating comments. The following are common examples of pregnancy discrimination.
Being not hired for or fired from your job because you are pregnant
Being fired is the most common reason women file charges of pregnancy discrimination. An analysis of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charges from 2011 to 2015 showed that nearly one-third of charges were filed by women alleging they were discharged for becoming pregnant. Firing often happens when an employee notifies an employer of a pregnancy or the employer becomes aware of the pregnancy. The employer may discharge or demote the employee. They may treat the employee differently, make discriminatory statements about the pregnancy, upcoming maternity leave, or the employee’s perceived ability to maintain their work abilities. If you’re experiencing hostility when your employer learns about it your pregnancy, or they fail to hire you because of it, that is pregnancy discrimination.
Refusing to hire an applicant because she is pregnant or may someday become pregnant is also pregnancy discrimination. Both state and federal law prohibit employers from making hiring decisions based on an applicant’s existing, future, or perceived pregnancy. They cannot ask questions such as “are you planning on having more children in the future?” Unfortunately, this is a very common type of discrimination because so many employers mistakenly assume that pregnant women will not be able to work as hard or commit as much to the job as other non-pregnant employees. Employers can also not make hiring decisions based on whether someone plans on becoming pregnant in the future. If an employer asks you about your plans to start a family during a job interview, this is a sign that they are illegally discriminating against applicants based on their future plans to become pregnant.
As long as a pregnant employee is able to perform the primary tasks required by her job, the employer cannot refuse to hire her. The Pregnancy Disability Act also forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to other elements of employment, such as promotions, assignments, or benefits.
Women do not have to announce their pregnancy immediately. They only need to share it when they are requesting reasonable accommodations, a leave of absence, or a job transfer. In California, pregnant women must provide their employers with at least 30 days of verbal or written notice when requesting reasonable accommodations, pregnancy disability leave, or a job transfer.
Frequent or severe harassment due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions is a form of discrimination and is also illegal under federal law. Examples of harassment include making offensive comments about someone, mocking, sharing offensive images, physically assaulting someone, or threatening to assault someone.
Failure to accommodate
A pregnant woman may suffer from health complications related to their pregnancy. If such a complication is severe enough to interfere with her work, her employer must treat her the same way that other temporarily disabled employees are treated and reasonably accommodate her needs. Therefore, if the employer would allow a temporarily disabled employee to take an unpaid leave of absence or perform alternate tasks, they must offer the same option to a pregnant woman. They must also permit necessary doctor visits or breaks. However, if an employer asks all employees to submit a doctor’s statement prior to making accommodations, the employer may make the same request of pregnant employees.
Failure to provide maternity leave
Employers may not deny a woman time off for childbirth or medical conditions related to childbirth if the woman is legally entitled to take that time off.
California’s main pregnancy leave of absence laws, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), The California Family Rights Act (CFRA), Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) as well as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) apply to most employers. You have a right to take maternity leave, although employers are not required to pay employees during maternity leave.
Failure to restore the employee to the same position
Sometimes discrimination issues surface when an employee tries to return to work. Sometimes the employer does not restore you to the same position that you had prior to your maternity leave or to a comparable position. If an individual is on a pregnancy-related leave, the employer must hold their job open for the same length of time that jobs are held open for employees on sick or temporary disability leave.
Pregnant employees are permitted to work as long as they are able to perform their jobs. If an employee has been unable to work due to a pregnancy-related condition and, after recovering, wishes to return to work, her employer may not prevent her return. They also may not require an employee to remain on leave for a set period of time after the birth.
Discrimination based on lactation needs
When a woman returns from maternity leave, the employer must provide a safe, clean private space for her to breastfeed or pump milk. Discriminatory behaviors related to breastfeeding working mothers include:
- Refusing to provide a safe, private space for lactation needs
- Denying reasonable breastfeeding break requests
- Harassing breastfeeding employees
- Firing employees for requesting breastfeeding accommodations
Have you been discriminated against or harassed because of your pregnancy? If you have questions concerning your legal options, please contact the experienced, zealous attorneys at Perkins Asbill at 916-446-2000 or contact us online.