Understanding Pregnancy Discrimination: What Employers Should Know

Pregnancy discrimination is an unlawful practice that involves treating employees or job applicants unfavorably due to their pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Despite legal protections, pregnancy discrimination continues to be a prevalent issue with significant personal and professional consequences for the victims. This blog post aims to summarize key aspects of an article that sheds light on pregnancy discrimination, including examples, relevant laws, and employer obligations.

Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination

Pregnancy discrimination can manifest in various ways. Here are a few examples outlined in the article:

  1. Excluding a job applicant who discloses their pregnancy or intention to become pregnant.
  2. Penalizing an employee’s career progression due to their upcoming pregnancy-related leave.
  3. Forcing an employee to take leave when alternative accommodations are available.
  4. Pressuring an employee to have or not have an abortion.
  5. Engaging in unwelcome and severe jokes about pregnancy or a pregnant employee’s body.
  6. Denying opportunities or reducing roles due to health concerns related to pregnancy.
  7. Requiring a seemingly healthy pregnant employee to provide a doctor’s note for job duties.
  8. Retaliating against an employee for a past pregnancy by terminating them during parental leave.

Laws Against Pregnancy Discrimination

There are two federal laws in the United States specifically designed to protect employees from pregnancy discrimination:

  1. Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA): Enacted in 1978 as an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the PDA applies to private employers with 15 or more employees. It prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, promotions, job assignments, training, leave, health insurance, and other conditions of employment.
  2. Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA): Effective as of June 27, 2023, the PWFA also applies to employers with 15 or more employees. It requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations for limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The law expands upon the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by granting accommodations regardless of whether the employee’s condition meets the threshold of a disability. Accommodations are also required on a temporary basis, even if the employee cannot perform essential job functions during that time.

Employer Obligations

To ensure compliance and create a supportive work environment, employers should take the following steps:

  1. If employing 15 or more employees, provide reasonable accommodations for known limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Examples include adjusting break schedules, modifying food or drink policies, providing seating, limiting lifting, offering job restructuring, light duty, or modified work schedules.
  2. Include a pregnancy accommodations policy in the employee handbook or policies if not already present.
  3. Align policies with applicable state or local laws that may offer additional protections for pregnant employees.
  4. Educate managers about the laws and the accommodations that may be necessary.
  5. Treat pregnant employees fairly and without bias, ensuring they receive the same opportunities as other employees.
  6. Avoid taking adverse action against an employee or applicant for requesting or utilizing accommodations.

Related Laws

The article also mentions two other federal laws that may apply to individuals who are, have been, or will be pregnant:

  1. Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act): This act, which amends the Fair Labor Standards Act, grants nursing employees the right to reasonable break time and a private space (other than a bathroom) to express breast milk while at work. The law applies to exempt employees as well.
  2. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): FMLA allows eligible employees (in companies with 50 or more employees) to take up to 12 weeks of leave for the care of a new child, including through adoption or foster care.
  3. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA prohibits discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities, including pregnancy-related disabilities. It applies to employers with 15 or more employees and covers various aspects of employment.

Pregnancy discrimination is a serious issue that affects many women in the workplace. Understanding the examples of discrimination, relevant laws such as the PDA and PWFA, and employer obligations can help employers create an inclusive environment that supports and protects pregnant employees. By taking proactive measures, businesses can prevent discrimination, foster equality, and promote the well-being of their workforce.

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