It may seem unthinkable in today’s world that a woman would be discriminated against on the job because she is pregnant. Sadly, it can and does happen. If you are pregnant, or plan on becoming pregnant, it’s important to understand your rights in the workplace.
It is illegal for any employer to:
- Fire you because you are pregnant
- Dock your pay because you are pregnant
- Demote you to a lower position because you are pregnant
- Refuse you benefits to which you are otherwise entitled because you are pregnant, regardless of your marital status
- Otherwise discriminate against you based on your pregnancy
The degree of protection you are afforded by the federal government depends largely on the size of the company you work for. In general, the more employees your employer has, the more they are expected to accommodate your pregnancy.
Companies with fewer than fifteen employees are not directly affected by special laws regarding pregnancy. However, it is still illegal for any company, no matter how small, to discriminate against you solely because you are pregnant. Smaller companies can sometimes get around this by claiming that they lack the ability to accommodate your pregnancy and could not continue to function without finding a replacement.
Companies with fifteen or more employees are required to accommodate any temporary disability your pregnancy causes in a manner consistent with the way others with disabilities are accommodated. In general, this means allowing you to work in jobs which do not present a risk to you and your unborn child if such positions are available within the company. If such positions are not available, the company is required to treat any leave you require the same as they would treat any other temporary disability.
If you work for a company with 50 or more employees, you are also entitled to take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act. This allows you to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid medical leave. The company must make your position or an equivalent one available to you when you return.
In addition to the rights afforded to you under federal law, you may be protected by state laws. Check your state’s labor laws which pertain to pregnancy in the workplace to see if you are afforded additional legal protection while you are pregnant and after childbirth.
Most companies, including smaller ones, are willing to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees as long as it doesn’t present a legitimate hardship to their business. In today’s business world, most employers would rather avoid the bad press associated with discriminating against a pregnant employee. The key is to communicate with your employer openly. The sooner your employer knows you are pregnant and what accommodations you need, the more likely they are to be willing and able to work with you.