4 Important Facts To Know About Pregnant Employee Rights

By Jeffrey Cassells

Many people believe that we’re living in a more progressive era than we were 20 years ago. However, there are numerous examples of women being fired today for being pregnant. 

Pregnancy discrimination cases are surprisingly rising throughout the years. In 2016, 235 federal pregnancy discrimination cases were filed, and in 2020, they rose to almost 400 cases. Research expects that by the end of 2021, the cases will exceed last year’s record. 

It’s been illegal to discriminate against pregnant women in the workplace since 1964 when the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act was passed. Furthermore, discrimination against pregnant women was strengthened when the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978. But, it seems that many employers fail to understand this. As such, you must know your rights so that you can protect yourself from pregnancy discrimination. 

Here are your basic rights as a pregnant employee:

Fair Treatment

Employers must treat pregnant women in the same way as they treat other job applicants and employees. 

You can’t be fired just because you’re pregnant. Even if your company guises discrimination as a concern for your child’s safety, employers can’t fire employees for this reason. Determining a workplace’s safety will be up to the employee and her doctor. 

In the same way, employers can’t refuse to hire you just because you’re pregnant or may become pregnant in the future. Unfortunately, many low-wage jobs practice this hiring process as they want to hire somebody who can be on the job for years without interruption. This is a form of pregnancy discrimination and is punishable under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. 

Fair Pay

Your employer can’t lower your pay because they assume that you can no longer perform your regular duties due to pregnancy. Unless your doctor states that you’re no longer fit to work because you’re expecting, your employer doesn’t have the right to downscale your salary. 

Additionally, if you can still do your job function, your company can’t force you to take time off or change jobs. As long as your doctor deems you fit to work, employers can’t prevent you from traveling on business trips, deny you a promotion, or reassign you to a less desirable job. 

However, if you can no longer perform your duties (as per your doctor), your employer can move you into another role. With this, the position may have lower pay.

Maternity Leave

With the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employers are required to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave to their employees with temporary disabilities, including pregnancy. However, since Title VII and FMLA didn’t state that employers should offer paid leave, it’s up to your company to offer paid leave or use other leave types to maintain your salary while on maternity leave.

During your 12-week pregnancy leave period, your employer must let you keep your job as they would for any other employee on sick or disability leave. 

Reasonable Accommodations

Under the Affordable Care Act, companies that have more than 50 employees are required to provide reasonable breaks to new mothers so that they can pump breast milk. Employers are also required to provide a private place (other than a bathroom) for the mothers to do this. 

If you have complications or temporary impairments due to pregnancy, you’re entitled to reasonable accommodations under your company’s policy which applies to other employees who have medical impairments. For example, if your employer offers light-duty work to an employee with an injured back, you’re also entitled to this accommodation. 

Other examples of reasonable accommodation include permission to sit or stand, altered break or work schedules, shift changes, ergonomic office furniture, permission to work from home, and elimination of marginal job functions. 

Stay Alert to Signs of Pregnancy Discrimination

Before you welcome your little bundle of joy, you must do a lot of preparation. This also includes some adjustments to your work life. As a pregnant woman in the workplace, you’re entitled to several rights. 

You’re allowed to ask for extra accommodations and some time off. 

Remember that you and your doctor are the only ones who are allowed to determine what’s safe for you and your child. Your employer, even if they are a socially conscious business, can’t make assumptions for you. Employers who refuse to give you fair treatment and pay due to your pregnancy exhibit discrimination, which violates the law. 

The best way to protect yourself against discrimination is to stay alert to its signs, know your rights, and use your best judgment.

Jeffrey is a writer by profession and an artist at heart. He is currently a content strategist and consultant for Shegerian & Associates and aims to make employee rights information more accessible. When he’s not writing, Jeff can be found working on abstract pieces in his art room.