Pregnancy Discrimination Is Still An Unfortunate Reality: Know Your Rights

It would be nice to think that discrimination against pregnant women in the workforce was a thing of the past—but studies indicate that incidents of pregnancy-related discrimination are actually on the rise. If you're pregnant or planning a pregnancy soon, this is what you should know about your rights.

You have protections similar to any temporarily disabled employee.

An amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act applies to any employer who has 15 or more employees. It requires them to treat pregnant women the way that they would any other employee who is suffering from a temporary medical condition and forbids acts of discrimination or retaliation against them due to pregnancy.

That means that you're entitled to reasonable accommodations for the duration of your pregnancy:

  • a relaxed dress code to accommodate your changing body shape in a way that won't constrict your abdomen (for example, allowing you to wear a uniform shirt untucked)
  • exceptions to policies that forbid food or drink at your desk or station if you need it to combat morning sickness, blood sugar problems, fatigue, pregnancy-related heartburn, or dehydration
  • the ability to sit when necessary, including while stocking shelves or working a cash register
  • Flexible arrival time and the ability to leave work early as needed for prenatal visits
  • Temporary relief from heavy-lifting and reassignment to "light duty" work for the duration of the pregnancy
  • More frequent bathroom breaks or rest breaks, if necessary

You also can't be forced to take your medical leave or leave-without-pay if a reasonable accommodation is possible. Some managers try to pressure women into taking leave almost as soon as they find out the worker is pregnant—simply because the manager doesn't want the hassle of having to work around the needed accommodations. 

Often, discrimination tactics take the form of purposeful harassment that's designed to single out the pregnant worker in order to make it harder for her to work while pregnant. For example, the manager of a Chipotle told his pregnant employee that she had to announce every bathroom break she took to all the other employees and began trying to restrict her access to fluids while she was working. He also ignored her requests to leave work early for a prenatal doctor's visit and fired her the next day for finally leaving without permission. The employee won $550,000 in a recent lawsuit over the discrimination.

You also can't be denied a job or promotion because of your pregnancy.

There seems to be an assumption that once a woman becomes pregnant that she will no longer be as interested in her job and career. This can lead to what's sometimes referred to the woman being put on "the Mommy Track," without being asked if that's what she wants. Male workers with children seldom encounter the same difficulties. 

You also cannot be fired or denied a job due to your pregnancy. For example, an insurance brokerage firm in Daytona is now being sued because they rescinded a job offer to a woman as soon as she informed her new employer that she was pregnant. The management seemed to think that her temporary condition would somehow affect her ability to be useful for the "long term" need that they had, despite the fact that she wasn't even asking for temporary accommodations. 

If you've suffered discrimination based on your pregnancy, talk to an attorney today about your case.