Based on annual data provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), allegations of pregnancy discrimination have declined over the last several years. However, that does not mean that pregnancy discrimination has been completely eliminated from the workplace. Just last year, there were nearly 3,500 pregnancy discrimination complaints submitted to the EEOC. If you are pregnant, have been pregnant in the past, or plan on becoming pregnant in the future, it’s important that you understand your legal rights. Here’s a look at five common examples of pregnancy discrimination that you may experience at work:
Example #1: You are not hired for a job because you are pregnant
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits employers from discriminating against job applicants and current employers because of pregnancy, childbirth, or any other medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. Because of this federal law, employers cannot decide against hiring you because you are pregnant. Unfortunately, this is a very common type of discrimination because so many employers mistakenly assume that pregnant women will not be able to work as hard or commit as much to the job as other non-pregnant employees.
Employers can also not make hiring decisions based on whether someone plans on becoming pregnant in the future. If an employer asks you about your plans to start a family during a job interview, this is a sign that they are illegally discriminating against applicants based on their future plans to become pregnant.
Example #2: You are fired because your employer thinks your job duties could impact your fertility
The United Auto Workers v. Johnson Controls, Inc. case was brought to the Supreme Court in 1991 to determine whether Johnson Controls had a right to exclude fertile women from holding jobs that put them at risk of being exposed to lead. Johnson Controls had this policy in place to protect itself from potential lawsuits if the women who were exposed to lead ended up having babies with birth defects. However, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the United Auto Workers and found that decisions regarding reproductive health should be left to female employees, not the employer. As a result, employers cannot prevent you from working a job solely because the job could affect your fertility or the health of your fetus if you are pregnant.
Example #3: You are not accommodated in the same way that other temporarily disabled employees are
Pregnant women often suffer from health complications during the course of their pregnancy. Some of these health complications are minor, but others may be severe enough to interfere with the employee’s work. If a woman becomes temporarily unable to do her job because of a condition related to her pregnancy, her employer must treat her the same way that other temporarily disabled employees are treated.
For example, if the employer allows other temporarily disabled employees to take an unpaid leave of absence until they are able to do their jobs again, pregnant women who have health complications must also be given this option. Treating a pregnant woman differently is a form of discrimination that is illegal under federal law.
Example #4: You are fired because you are considering having an abortion
Abortion is a controversial topic, and many people are strongly opposed to it due to religious reasons. However, an employer’s personal beliefs cannot affect how they treat women who have had an abortion or who are considering having an abortion in the future. Discrimination against these individuals is prohibited under the PDA, which is a federal law. If your employer is aware that you have had an abortion in the past or may have one in the future, they cannot fire you based on this decision. In fact, they cannot take your abortion into consideration when making any job-related decision, including those involving promotions, pay raises, and job reassignments.
Although the PDA does prohibit discrimination against women who have had or may have an abortion, it does not require employers that offer health insurance to pay for coverage of abortion.
Example #5: You cannot be harassed because you are pregnant
Harassing a woman because of her pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition is a form of discrimination and is also illegal under federal law. Examples of harassment include making offensive comments about someone, mocking, sharing offensive images, physically assaulting someone, or threatening to assault someone.
However, it’s important to note that these behaviors only become illegal when they occur frequently or when they are so severe that they impact with the victim’s ability to do her job. Therefore, a one-off offensive comment about someone’s pregnancy may not be considered harassment under federal law. Women should still report these one-off comments to their employers, though.
What should you do if you are a victim of pregnancy discrimination?
If you have experienced any type of pregnancy discrimination, the first thing you should do is alert your employer and give them the opportunity to put an end to it before you take legal action. If your employer fails to take action to protect you, contact the EEOC or Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). You will need to file a complaint with one of these agencies prior to pursuing a lawsuit against your employer for pregnancy discrimination. These agencies will be responsible for investigating your allegations and determining whether your employer did in fact discriminate against you because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related condition. If a violation is found, you may be able to recover compensation for lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.
Have you been discriminated against or harassed because of your pregnancy? If you have any questions regarding your legal options or how to file a complaint, contact us today. Schedule a free consultation with Shegerian & Associates by calling 1-800-GOT-FIRED or visiting us online.