Although most US-based companies have become more family-friendly in the last decades, there are still cases of discrimination in the workplace, especially for pregnant women. Discrimination against pregnant women has been illegal since the passing of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in the year 1978. However, there are still some employers who do not understand the essence of the law as some of them still consider pregnant women unproductive since they are not able to perform their duties just like before they got pregnant.
Pregnancy discrimination usually refers to the undesirable treatment of a woman in a workplace regardless if they are an applicant or an existing employee because of pregnancy, childbirth or any related medical condition. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it is unlawful to discriminate pregnant women and limit their career and promotion opportunities such as assignments, promotions, fringe benefits and any other term or condition of employment. Firing, laying off or the deprivation of salary due to a woman’s pregnancy is also against the PDA.
Pregnancy Discrimination and Temporary Disability
The employer needs to treat pregnant women the same way they treat other temporarily disabled employees. For example, pregnant employees need to be provided with a lighter workload or alternative assignments if possible. They are also entitled to disability leave, or unpaid leave if the same is also provided to other temporarily disabled employees.
The American with Disabilities or ADA considers impairments resulting from pregnancy as disabilities. Some of the good examples of pregnancy-related impairments include gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, a pregnancy-related medical condition where proteins can be found in the urine and is usually characterized by pregnancy-induced hypertension. The ADA Amendment Acts of 2008 makes it easier for the pregnant employee and the employer alike to determine which medical condition is considered a covered disability. The ADA website has all the information that both parties may need.
Workplace Discrimination and Harassment
Workplace pregnancy harassment is considered unlawful. Harassing a female employee because of pregnancy, childbirth or any pregnancy-related medical condition defies the law of moral ethics and rule of law. Workplace pregnancy harassment becomes illegal when it becomes too frequent that it creates a hostile working environment or when it results in an undesirable employment decision.
An employer cannot refuse to hire an applicant just because she is pregnant or shows any pregnancy-related conditions, given that she can fulfill her major functions and duties. The same can also be said when the employer, customers or co-workers have their prejudices against pregnant workers. Therefore, it is unethical for an employer to ask an applicant if she is pregnant or is planning to have children in the future. Legally speaking, an employer cannot base his hiring decisions upon the person’s pregnancy.
An employer also cannot force a pregnant employee to take a leave, as long as she can fulfill her duties at work. If the pregnant worker has been absent from work and recovered, the employer cannot compel her to remain on leave until the baby’s birth. The employer also cannot forcefully prevent her from returning to work for a specified length of time after giving birth.
The employer cannot also alter the pregnant worker’s job duties, as long as she is still capable of doing the job. The same can also be said if the pregnant worker voluntarily requests for some changes on her workload, the employer needs to address the request and grant it if proven reasonable. The employer cannot also move her to another position just because of the mere reason that she is pregnant.
Provisions for Pregnancy, Maternity and Parental Leave
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnant women are also entitled to pregnancy leave. An employee’s ability to work cannot be determined by pregnancy-related conditions. However, if the employer will require a pregnant employee to submit a doctor’s statement about her pregnancy before granting leave or paying the sick benefits, the employer has the right to do so and the pregnant employee needs to comply.
Additionally, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 states that a new parent may be eligible to acquire 12 weeks of paid or unpaid leave to take care of her new child. In order for the pregnant employee to be eligible, she must have worked for the employer or company for at least 12 months prior to the request to take a leave and the employer needs to have a specified number of employees. You can check with your employer and the Department of Labor for more information.