In 1978, the United States Department of Labor passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), protecting all women in the workplace against pregnancy discrimination. This means that an employer or prospective employer cannot take negative actions toward a woman because of pregnancy or because a woman might become pregnant.
Is Pregnancy Discrimination Widespread in the United States?
However, even with the PDA, recent studies have shown that more needs to be done to protect women in American workplaces. Statistics have shown that almost 85 percent of working women will become mothers at one point. Unfortunately, these women are also working longer while pregnant and going back to work quicker after the birth of their babies, possibly because of perceived repercussions.
There is a negative stigma that pregnant women face every day in the workplace; women are not as productive at work while they are pregnant. In fact, within the past 10 years, there have been more than 50,000 pregnancy discrimination claims. These claims include hostility or harassment toward pregnant employees, isolation, stereotyping, and lowered expectations.
Are Babies Being Impacted by Pregnancy Discrimination?
A study by Baylor University found that it is not just the mothers who are negatively affected by these work conditions, the babies are also adversely affected by pregnancy discrimination, stress, and postpartum symptoms. The study monitored over 250 pregnant women and measured specific health statistics of the children, including their Agpar score, which is the test given to babies right after birth that measures heart rate, muscle tone, and gestational age.
The results showed that the negative impacts are felt by both the mother and her baby. Pregnancy discrimination and high levels of stress can even potentially impact the birth weight of the baby. This shows the impact of discrimination in the workplace against pregnant employees.
What Rights Do Pregnant Women Have?
Under the PDA, the Department of Labor, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), pregnant women must be treated as equally and as fairly as other employees. Employers must abide by certain laws and provide accommodations, including the following:
Employers Cannot Refuse to Promote Pregnant Employees: An employer cannot refuse to promote or hire a pregnant employee because of the pregnancy or a condition that is related to the pregnancy. An employer cannot ask inappropriate questions during an interview that pertains to the pregnancy as well.
Pregnant Employees Cannot be Forbidden to Work: A pregnant employee cannot be forbidden to work if she chooses to continue working, and she is able to perform her work tasks.
Leave of Absence: Employers must allow the same amount of leave of absence to pregnant employees as they provide to non-pregnant employees. This also goes for health benefits afforded to the pregnant employee and spouse. Also, the employer must hold the pregnant worker’s job open for a set amount of time and provide sick or disability compensation.
Advancement and Benefits: A pregnant woman can still accrue career advancements, salary increase, vacation time, and other disability benefits.
Doctor’s Notes: An employer cannot ask for a doctor’s note or similar documents if they do not ask other employees.
Pregnancy-Related Conditions: Some of the pregnancy-related conditions include gestational diabetes, hernia, hypertension, or preeclampsia, which are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as well as the PDA.
Time for Leave: A new parent may be eligible for 12 weeks of leave to take care of the child, which is covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This is paid or unpaid leave that was earned during employment.
Reimbursements: Pregnant workers are allowed reasonable reimbursements for any pregnancy-related expenses.
Pregnant Women Cannot be Harassed: Pregnant women cannot be harassed because of the pregnancy or any pregnancy-related condition. Additionally, a pregnant woman cannot be demoted or fired because of the pregnancy, this is called wrongful termination.
Accommodations: An employer must provide accommodations to a pregnant woman, such as reasonable breaks, time off, and modifying job tasks, like light duty work.
What Can Employers Do for Pregnant Women?
In any workplace, it is important for employers to maintain work environments that are free of discrimination, particularly for pregnant workers. They must try to reduce stress as much as possible to ensure high productivity and work morale.
To do this, all employees should be treated equally and fairly without biases. Employers must provide flexible schedules for pregnant women and accommodate for necessary medical appointments and medical issues that could arise from pregnancy.
Employers should also have proper maternity leave programs. This includes giving pregnant employees the maximum amount of leave before and after the birth. Employers should prepare for the absence by hiring help or training beforehand.
Another good practice for employers is to keep the lines of communication open for pregnant employees. It is important to have pregnant employees feel as comfortable as possible so that they can express their needs. Employers can also explain the benefits and coverages available to pregnant employees, as well as answer any questions regarding time off and when to return from leave.
Employers and employees must work together to establish an environment that is free of the misconceptions of pregnancy. Employers should allow breastfeeding or breast pumping for nursing mothers and normalize it. They should also provide training or educational sessions to all employees, explaining employment discrimination and the ramifications of it, particularly pregnancy discrimination.
What Can a Mother Do at Work to Ensure a Healthy Pregnancy?
There are certain actions a pregnant woman can take to help protect her from discrimination, thus ensuring a healthy pregnancy. As the aforementioned study states, eliminating workplace discrimination and stress can only have a positive outcome for both the mother and her baby.
It is always good practice to know the laws of the state and employees’ rights concerning workplace discrimination. Communicating with management or Human Resources is especially important when working while pregnant, though there is no requirement to do so.
Having an open communication with an employer will help limit any pregnancy discrimination and allow the employer to accommodate. This includes lighter duty, different tasks, alternative jobs, and disability or unpaid leave.
A pregnant woman’s health is most important, and she should certainly express this to her employer. Not only should the employer allow lighter duty and tasks to help alleviate stress, but the employee should follow suit.
Pregnant workers should consider leaving early to go to work and leaving early to come home as well, and pregnant women should avoid other stressors. Pregnant employees should also allow themselves to take 15-minute breaks intermittently; a pregnant woman getting off her feet to relax is good for her health. By giving a pregnant worker personal time to destress, it contributes to a healthy pregnancy and baby.
When Should a Pregnant Worker Talk to a Lawyer?
If a pregnant woman encounters discrimination at work, or even during the interview process, she should talk to a lawyer about her legal options. A complaint could be filed and a lawyer can help with this. Additionally, a lawyer will ensure that her rights are protected.
Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Protect the Rights of Discriminated Pregnant Employees
Though discrimination in the workplace is illegal, it still happens to all workers. Pregnant workers should be treated fairly; doing so protects the health of the mother and her baby. If you are being discriminated against at work because of your pregnancy, then do not hesitate to contact one of our Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidney L. Gold & Associates, P.C. Call us at 215-569-1999 or complete our online form for a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia and Pennsauken, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania, including Wilkes-Barre, Scranton, northeast Philadelphia, Bucks County, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County.