Pregnancy can be a crucial time period for women in the workforce. Discrimination may arise, placing a woman’s career in jeopardy. When you feel your rights at work are violated due to a pregnancy, even in the interview phase, be aware of your legal rights and options.
The truth is a woman has a right to experience a discrimination-free hiring process – even if she’s pregnant. This is despite the fact that many women face discrimination from employers who carry unjust biases toward working women who are pregnant. These biases can arise due to certain misconceptions.
For instance, employers may shy away from hiring pregnant workers due to a lack of knowledge or misunderstanding about additional costs associated with employing a pregnant worker. Employers may believe hiring a pregnant employee requires extra costs for insurance, which could be avoided not non-pregnant workers.
Sometimes employer bias against pregnant workers comes in the form of assumptions about the way a pregnant worker will perform her job duties. Stereotypes about a woman’s ability to perform her job well while pregnant or about the risks associated with employing a female worker who may become sick or injured while pregnant at work often leads to unfair discrimination.
When an employer first interviews a pregnant worker, these biases and stereotypes may come to light. Phone interviews may not pose a problem, but in a face-to-face interview, employer’s could decide to abruptly end the interview or refuse to hire a worker after they have seen that she is pregnant.
What the Law Says About Refusal to Hire Due to Pregnancy
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act provides relief for pregnant workers who experience discrimination in the hiring process. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which amends Title VII, is designed to specifically address issues women workers face while trying to obtain – and maintain – employment in today’s workforce.
According to Title VII, an employer violates a pregnant worker’s right to work free of sex discrimination when employment decisions like hiring are made based on pregnancy status. Title VII provides federal protection for workers in companies with 15 or more employees. This protections extends to several protected categories, such as age, sex, nationality, race and religion.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act provides even further protection. The PDA clarifies that discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII. Any aspect of employment can fall under the law’s protection including termination, benefits, promotion and job assignments.
Issues Arising Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act
Specific issues may arise which spark an interest in the provisions of the PDA. According to the EEOC “Enforcement Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination and Related Issues”, released in June of 2015, one of those issues could be the employer’s knowledge of the pregnancy.
An employer may not be liable for pregnancy discrimination if a decision not to hire was made without knowing a worker was pregnant, but when the employer does know that a worker is pregnant and makes an adverse decision not to hire based on that knowledge, the employer could be held liable.
For instance, a phone interview may yield a favorable offer of employment, but the employer may later refuse to hire the worker after an in-person meeting reveals she is obviously pregnant. This could be evidence that the employer’s refusal to hire was based on knowledge of the pregnancy in violation of the PDA.
Similarly, issues may arise during the hiring process that indicate an employer is biased against hiring a pregnant worker. The employer might assume that pregnancies lead to absences from work or that a pregnant worker is a risky hire due to the fact that they might need additional time off to care for the child in the future or may decide to leave the job altogether after the pregnancy.
While these may be valid concerns, according to federal law (and most state law), it’s illegal to use such stereotypes and assumptions to make employment decisions.
The EEOC enforcement guidance also emphasizes that future pregnancies could be the subject of workplace discrimination. It’s illegal for employers to refuse to hire a potential worker simply because the company believes there is risk to unborn children or future pregnancies.
For instance, if a company decides to refuse to hire a woman who expresses an intention to become pregnant in the future because the company is involved in manufacturing products that could pose a threat to unborn children, this could be illegal, according to the EEOC guidelines.
Even if an employer is willing to hire a pregnant potential worker, but later refuses to hire due to knowledge of a related medical condition, this too, could be a violation of the PDA. Pregnant hirees with a medical condition related to the pregnancy, or childbirth in general, should be treated the same as other workers similar in their ability or inability to work, according to EEOC guidance.
Enforcing Your rights as a Pregnant applicant
Even if you are pregnant while looking for employment, you don’t have to settle for subpar hiring situations. If you feel you have been denied employment due to employer bias or stereotypes about pregnant workers, you have a number of options.
Filing a charge with the EEOC may be the first step toward resolving the issue. The EEOC is responsible for enforcing Title VII and the PDA. When an employee files a charge, the EEOC may conduct an investigation to determine whether the employer is in violation of discrimination laws.
After the investigation, the EEOC may decide to represent workers in court. The EEOC would also offer representation in any settlement negotiations as well. If the agency decides against representation, it will issue a Notice of Right to Sue which authorizes employees to hire their own attorneys to represent them in a lawsuit against an employer.
Your right to be Hired, Even If Pregnant
Whether you are searching for employment while pregnant or even expecting to have children in the future, it is illegal for an employer to refuse to hire you based on pregnancy. However, keep in mind that litigating violations of rights in this area can sometimes be complicated. Enlist the help of an experienced employment rights attorney well-versed in pregnancy discrimination laws for best results.