Everything You Need to Know About Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace

Discrimination in the workplace is something we all hope we never experience. Unfortunately, many people still deal with different kinds of discrimination while at work. In order to protect yourself from unjust behavior from your employers, managers, supervisors or coworkers, you need to know the many kinds of discrimination you may face — including pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

Pregnancy discrimination can happen to a female employee or applicant if they are pregnant, plan to become pregnant, recently had a baby or have a medical condition related to pregnancy.

Like other forms of discrimination, pregnancy discrimination is illegal and should not be tolerated.

The first step in protecting yourself from discrimination is understanding how it can appear and what you should do if you face it.

What Is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is the law that states a company cannot discriminate against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is technically an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is technically considered discrimination based on sex.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act helps women in a number of ways. From ensuring they are not treated any differently than a man or non-pregnant woman during an interview to making sure medical bills are covered by company health insurance, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act approaches the situation from all angles.

During the interview process, employers are not allowed to ask a pregnant woman questions they would not ask any other candidate. They may also not ask questions about the woman wishing to become pregnant or starting a family, especially if they will use those answers in the decision-making process.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects employees by stating a woman does not need to give notice if she plans to become pregnant, as long as it does not interfere with day-to-day duties of the employee. If there is a legitimate business purpose, the employer may require notice of pregnancy early on.

If a pregnant woman can continue doing her job, the company cannot force her to take an absence unless instructed by a doctor. If the company offers part-time disability leave to other employees, pregnant women or women who have lost a pregnancy are entitled to this time. The employer must also hold an equivalent job open for the employee while she is out of the office for childbirth or another pregnancy-related condition.

Employers must provide the same level of health care for pregnant women as they provide to any other employees. The amount of health care a woman is given should not depend on her marital status. They must also offer the same health care benefits to the spouses of their male employees as they do to spouses of female employees, meaning the Pregnancy Discrimination Act can also protect against discrimination of spouses.

It is also important to note that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act applies to women who have had abortions or plan to have abortions. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an employer cannot treat a woman who has had an abortion any differently because of her choice.

However, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not apply to everyone. Like Title VII, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act only applies to companies with more than 15 employees.

Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace

Understanding what the Pregnancy Discrimination Act includes is important, but sometimes it can be difficult to detect. Let’s take a look at some examples of pregnancy discrimination that may happen:

  • You let your boss know you’re expecting. A few days later, you receive a message that your position is being terminated.
  • You make it through to the final round of an interview for a new position when the manager asks if you plan to have children and you say yes. The interview then ends rather abruptly and you’re informed they’re going with another candidate.
  • A few months before your baby is due, your boss begins shortening your workweeks and reducing your hours. You’re the only employee to have a different work schedule.
  • After announcing your pregnancy, your manager has started making comments that you won’t be able to perform to your best ability once you get closer to your due date.
  • You’ve been using sick days to attend appointments related to your pregnancy. Your boss tells you you’re taking too much time off and you may be let go.
  • Your manager has been prepping you for a big promotion coming up. Once you find out you’re pregnant, the manager no longer thinks you’re a good fit for the new position and instead gives it to another employee who is not pregnant.
  • Your boss will not allow your antenatal care to be covered under your health care policy.
  • After talking with your boss about unsafe or uncomfortable work conditions, they refuse to make appropriate adjustments to accommodate you during pregnancy.
  • You’ve left for maternity leave, but your boss refuses to communicate with you. You’re not informed of changes within the company, promotion opportunities or new projects, making it difficult for you when you return.
  • You’re ready to return to work, but your boss says they no longer have a job for you.

Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace can appear in a number of different ways. These are only a few examples. If you feel you’ve been discriminated against because you’re pregnant, hoping to become pregnant or just had a child, you’ll want to talk to someone as soon as possible to file your claim.

However, it is important to note that pregnancy does not give you a free pass to keeping your position. If you act out of line or your performance drops while you’re pregnant, your employer may have reason to fire you. You are only protected under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act as long as your work does not suffer due to your pregnancy.

In most cases, you will receive warning or a poor review before you are fired. If you’ve received notice but your work does not improve, you likely cannot win a pregnancy discrimination case. However, if you are not made aware of decreasing performance and your boss lets you go, changes your hours or reduces your pay, you may still have a pregnancy discrimination case.

How to Prove Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace

If you believe you’ve been discriminated against because of your pregnancy, you must be prepared to prove it is true. You must be able to show you were treated differently than other applicants or employees because of your pregnancy. This means you will need evidence.

Direct evidence will help you the most in a pregnancy discrimination case, although it is the most difficult to come by. In order to gather direct evidence that you’ve been discriminated against, you must have a statement from your boss, manager or supervisor saying you’ve been passed over because of your pregnancy or new stance as a mother. This applies to both job applicants and employees.

Having direct evidence is not always likely. Because many employers are aware that making such statements could get them into trouble legally, they’ll be careful not to make any discriminatory comments. Instead, they may present you with a sham reason why you’ve been passed over.

If you do not have direct evidence of discrimination, you’ll need circumstantial evidence. This circumstantial evidence can be a bit more difficult to prove in court, but it is a lot easier to come across. Circumstantial evidence can appear in a number of different ways.

In a pregnancy discrimination case, you’ll need to look at timing and the traditional progression of events. If employees in your position are usually promoted during a certain period of time but you were not because of your pregnancy, this may be circumstantial evidence. Likewise, if you were fired before your due date because of poor performance but your boss did not follow the same procedure as other underperforming employees, this may be circumstantial evidence.

To prove your pregnancy discrimination case with circumstantial evidence, you’ll need to know the typical procedures of your office. From understanding how people in your position get promoted to how they may be let go, it is important you know as much as possible so you can identify what changes appear in your situation.

In order to protect yourself from discrimination of any kind, you need to know what it looks like and what your rights are. Whether you’re a woman hoping to become pregnant, an already expecting mother or a mother looking to grow her family, becoming familiar with the Pregnancy Discrimination Act can help you save your job.

Have you experienced discrimination of any kind in the workplace? Think you’re being discriminated against due to your pregnancy? Tell us how you handled it in the comments.

For more tips on how to advance your career and protect yourself from unjust discrimination in the workplace, subscribe to Punched Clocks.


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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

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