Pregnant workers, and all workers, have important rights even before employment begins. During the hiring process, the rights of workers to be hired without regard to race, color, national origin, sex, disability, religion and age is protected under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. In some states such as California, and even in counties and municipalities across the country, that right even extends to reasonable accommodations for pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions.

It’s no surprise that pregnant workers have a considerable amount of protection available during the hiring process. The main premise of employment discrimination law revolves around a notion of equal rights for all workers, regardless of physical conditions or social status. The key is being aware of your rights and being willing to speak out about them should they be violated.

Rights for Pregnant Job Applicants and Workers

Federal law currently protects the rights of pregnant workers in hiring, termination and compensation as well as in a host of other employment processes such as benefits and medical leave. Beyond the basic protection of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act offer a web of protection for pregnant workers that includes important protections against hiring discrimination.

States and localities, too have important measures in place to protect pregnant workers. In Washington, D.C. for example, the Protecting Pregnant Workers Fairness Act went into effect in March of this year with the purpose of establishing the rights of pregnant workers to reasonable accommodations. So far, the ADA has afforded some protections on the federal level in this same area, but mainly for disabilities related to pregnancy and childbirth.

California, too, has specific legal protections on the books to support pregnant workers in their need for reasonable accommodations. The California law extends to pregnancy-related matters childbirth and related medical issues surrounding childbirth – quite an expansive approach.

Congressional leaders are also eyeing additional legislative protections for pregnant workers at the federal level – many taking cues from state laws recently passed. Senator Bob Casey, D. Pa., recently reintroduced the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a bill which aims to specifically protect pregnant workers during the hiring process as well as to solidify the legal requirement of reasonable accommodation for pregnancies at work. Another bill, the Pregnancy Discrimination Amendment Act is also in the works.

Combating Employer Assumptions About Motherhood

Women’s rights have made significant strides in recent decades. Yet, women continue to face discrimination in the employment process concerning pregnancy and motherhood. Combatting discrimination during the hiring process can be particularly tricky since employers may be less inclined to extend company non-discrimination policy to prospective hires who are technically not yet employees.

Often, pregnancy discrimination has roots in unfair assumptions employers harbor about motherhood in the workplace. This phenomena, sometimes referenced as the “motherhood penalty” and the “new glass ceiling”, has become an inhibitive and invasive trend in workplaces across the U.S. and abroad.

In the U.S., federal employment discrimination agency, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), is the foremost voice for worker’s rights and represents a select number of cases involving employment discrimination each year.

The Commission recently issued Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues, along with a question and answer document about the guidance and a fact sheet for small businesses.  The Enforcement Guidance, Q&A document, and Fact Sheet are available on the EEOC’s website.

Filing a Hiring Discrimination Complaint

When an employer refuses to hire a prospective applicant due to her pregnancy status, the door is open for filing a charge with the EEOC against the employer based on state or federal law.  Each state has local EEOC offices for state and/or federal claims and the rules for filing deadlines and application process may vary for state law issues.

However, for federal law issues based on Title VII or the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, applicants alleging hiring discrimination have 180 days from the date of the refusal to hire to file a charge.

EEOC hiring discrimination cases often result in settlement. This was the case when a Virginia based company was recently forced to pay $20,000 in an EEOC settlement for rescinding a job offer because of an applicant’s pregnancy. In the case, analytics software company, Savi Technology, rescinded its job offer to a female applicant just one day after learning that she was pregnant.

Taking Your Complaint to Court

The charge filing process can be complex and the assistance of an attorney well-versed in employment discrimination litigation can be a tremendous resource. Once the initial investigation is complete, the EEOC will either decide to represent the complainant or may decide to issue a formal notice allowing them to file suit against an employer in a court of law.

The courts have taken a strong stance against pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. This is evidenced by the recent Supreme Court case involving a pregnant worker who sued shipping giant UPS for unfair treatment due to her pregnancy citing the company’s failure to provide equal reasonable accommodations.

State courts too have often ruled in favor of applicants and workers facing discrimination due to pregnancy. Recently, a Texas judge ruled against a ‘no-pregnancy policy’ awarding nearly $75,000 to the victim of pregnancy discrimination.

Managers and company execs are also taking notice that pregnancy discrimination can be extremely hurtful to the bottom line. Like many other forms of workplace discrimination, treating workers and applicants unfairly due to pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood can quickly rack up litigation expenses and has the potential to place companies in a bind with expensive measures to correct the situation afterward, as is often required by the EEOC.

If you’re pregnant and think you were discriminated against by your employer, contact Shegerian & Associates today at 1-800-GOT-FIRED (468-3473) or click here to submit a confidential inquiry form.