Pregnancy is an exciting time in your personal life. However, if you’re expecting a child, you may find yourself on the receiving end of pregnancy discrimination at work.
Pregnancy discrimination is illegal in the U.S. and is covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, pregnancy discrimination still occurs across the nation and may be a cause for concern if you are expecting a child soon.
Pregnancy discrimination can occur before, during, or after a pregnancy. Pregnancy discrimination can also center on birth control and reproductive rights. Typically, pregnancy discrimination occurs when an employee is treated unfairly due to their pregnancy status.
Pregnancy discrimination can take many different forms. Currently, Title VII covers discrimination related to:
- Hiring or the job application and selection process;
- Pay, job assignments, or promotions;
- Training, employee benefits, or any other term or condition of employment;
- Firing from a job, reduction of hours, layoff, or termination of employment.
These forms of discrimination are listed by the EEOC and aim to cover a spectrum of potential offenses. It’s important to note that Title VII protection also extends to abortion and breastfeeding/lactation. Employers are not allowed to harass employees due to pregnancy-related decisions and are not allowed to retaliate due to decisions made during pregnancy.
Title VII guarantees you certain rights and accommodations before, during, and after pregnancy. However, it’s important to understand your rights fully, as some employers do not operate according to Title VII guidelines.
If you believe an employer has discriminated against you due to pregnancy, you can file a charge of employment discrimination to the EEOC.
For example, if you have had to take time off due to your pregnancy and feel that your employer is discriminating against you, you may make a claim to the EEOC. Employers who use stereotypes or assumptions about pregnancy to discriminate against you and reduce your workload are operating outside of the law.
Protection against stereotypes and assumptions also extends to employers who believe they are acting in the best interest of you, the employee. Some employers mistakenly believe that you will want certain time off or a reduction in responsibilities before, during, or after your pregnancy. Title VII protects you against such beliefs.
Some states extend care and additional protection regarding lactation. Regardless of the state you are in, you may find support through the Fair Labor Standards Act which states that employers must give “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk” in the first year following childbirth. Employers must provide you with “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public.”
The pandemic changed the way that families navigate pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean you are no longer eligible for maternity care — even if you work remotely. Many obstetrics practices have switched to a hybrid model of consultation, meaning you may not need to visit a hospital during some prenatal and postpartum checkups. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) still affords certain rights to time off work in order to receive the healthcare you need.
The FMLA guarantees you a minimum of twelve work weeks of leave following the birth of a child. However, further accommodations and leave may be necessary. Unfortunately, the FMLA can become difficult to navigate, as some states have their own medical leave laws.
You may also find support through the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Although pregnancy itself is not regarded as a disability, some ADA accommodations may be extended to you.
You can request an ADA accommodation if you experience any difficulties with common issues like seeing, hearing, standing, or concentrating. Depending on the state you’re in, employers may have a legal obligation to provide reasonable accommodations that help you overcome the barriers you face. Common examples include flexible lighting, alternative work schedules, and access to assistive technology.
Some accommodations and protections may be extended to non-pregnant partners.
In 2017, a non-pregnant partner claimed that he was fired due to his partner’s pregnancy. While the claim was unsuccessful, the judge explained that “the [plantiff] must allege . . . that [he] was terminated because of his partner’s pregnancy . . . [and] . . . that a female employee would not have been terminated because of her partner’s pregnancy”.
Clearly, this claim enters a legal grey area. However, in most states, fathers are still guaranteed unpaid paternity leave by the FMLA. In a few other states, fathers may be able to gain access to paid paternity leave following childbirth or adoption.
Pregnancy discrimination happens across the nation. You can protect yourself by knowing your rights and the accommodations afforded to you by Title VII, the ADA, and the FMLA. If you suspect you’ve been a victim of discrimination, you can file a claim with the EEOC.
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