It is illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee because she is pregnant. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) amended Title VII to make clear that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition is a form of illegal sex discrimination. The PDA applies to government employers and to private employers with at least 15 employees; some states have laws prohibiting pregnancy discrimination that apply to smaller employers.
What Is Pregnancy Discrimination?
Employers must treat pregnant employees just as they treat their other employees. This means, for example, that:
- An employer may not refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant.
- An employer may not demote, discipline, transfer, fire, or otherwise disadvantage an employee because she is pregnant.
- An employer may not require a pregnant employee to stop working at a certain point in her pregnancy, as long as she is able to work.
- An employer may not require an employee to take more parental leave than she desires after having a child.
Employees Who Are Temporarily Unable to Work Due to Pregnancy
If an employee is temporarily disabled by pregnancy, the employer must treat the employee the same way it would treat any other temporarily disabled employee. For example, the employer might temporarily modify the employee's job, provide disability leave, or provide unpaid leave. The employer must also follow the same rules in regard to benefits, seniority, accrual of time off, and pay increases for employees on pregnancy disability leave as it uses for employees on disability leave for any other reason.
Pregnancy and Parental Leave
The PDA doesn't require employers to offer parental or pregnancy leave, except that employers must offer employees who are temporarily disabled by pregnancy the same leave that is offered to other temporarily disabled employees. If the employer offers only unpaid time off for other temporarily disabilities, that's all it has to offer for pregnancy disability.
However, other laws may give employees the right to take pregnancy and parental leave. For example, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and similar state laws require certain employers to provide unpaid leave for pregnancy and bonding with a new child. Some states require employers to provide a certain amount of leave for pregnancy disability. And, a handful of states have temporary disability programs, a type of insurance that pays employees a portion of their usual compensation while they are temporarily unable to work, including for pregnancy disability.
If You Are Facing Pregnancy Discrimination
If you believe your employer has taken action against you because you are pregnant, you may want to consult with an experienced employment attorney. A lawyer can review the facts of your case and let you know whether you have a strong discrimination claim. If you decide to proceed, an attorney can help you negotiate with your employer, file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or a state fair employment practices agency (a necessary prerequisite to filing a lawsuit), or sue your employer for damages.