Navigating the Patchwork of Laws that Apply to Pregnancy
What women need to know about their rights in the workplace
Many working women are in for a shock when they become pregnant for the
For example, female employees are often surprised to find that not all
workplaces provide paid maternity leave. Not all employers offer job accommodations
to women in physically strenuous jobs. And not all employers are supportive
of allowing a new mother to progress in her career.
Since multiple federal laws deal with pregnancy in the workplace, it can
be difficult to figure out what your rights are if you’re an expectant
mom, a new mom, or an adoptive or foster parent.
Let’s take a look at what several different federal laws says about
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
According to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), a company may not
discriminate against a woman on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or
related medical conditions.
Discrimination may include things like:
- Docking, reducing, or withholding compensation
- Changing job assignments to less-desirable tasks
- Reducing hours
- Denying promotions, benefits, or necessary training
- Creating a hostile work environment, or
- Terminating a woman because of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition.
However, the PDA has some significant holes in it. For example, it doesn’t
specifically address how to handle job modifications or health issues
that may make it hard for a woman to complete her normal job duties.
That’s where the ADA can provide some guidance.
The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)
The ADA doesn’t have a list of conditions that are or are not covered
under the statute. Therefore, pregnancy does not automatically qualify
a woman for ADA protection.
However, if a condition related to pregnancy severely impairs a woman’s
ability to conduct normal life activities and functions, she may qualify
for ADA protection. For example, a woman may develop gestational diabetes
or she may be ordered to go on bed rest for various reasons.
In those cases, a woman may qualify for a job accommodation to allow her
to continue to do her job. Obviously, some accommodations may not be possible,
such as a retail worker who must go on bed rest.
However, once a woman qualifies for ADA coverage, the employer is obligated
to engage in the “interactive process” with the employee to
try and find a solution.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Many women take their maternity leave through the FMLA.
Woman who are entitled to FMLA leave may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid
leave for prenatal care, the birth of a child, recovery from childbirth,
and bonding with a newborn after delivery.
In addition, FMLA may be used by fathers for paternity leave, and for adoptive
or foster parents to bond with a child who has been placed in their home.
FMLA is also often used by women who need to take leave for pregnancy
related health conditions.
Despite the reason FMLA leave is used, eligible women must be restored
to their prior positions (or to equivalent ones) when they return to work.
The Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare)
As far as nursing goes, the Affordable Care Act provides hourly employees
with the right to express breastmilk in a private area whenever it’s
necessary, for up to one year.
The employer is responsible for providing an area other than a restroom.
That area must be available at any time a nursing woman might need it.
Contact Us Now
Bias against a pregnant employee (or a new mother) is a form of discrimination,
and, as such, may entitle you to pursue legal action. If you believe that
your rights have been violated, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.