8 Workplace Rights Every Expecting Mother Should Know

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May 22, 2024 at 2:36AM UTC

If you’re a pregnant worker or employer of workers who are pregnant, it’s important to understand the laws concerning pregnancy in the workplace in the United States. These are essential for ensuring a safe, legally-compliant and productive work environment for everyone.

There are three major federal laws concerning pregnant workers and new parents. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is specific to pregnant workers, while the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) affect other workers and conditions as well.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The PDA is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Terms include:

1. It is illegal to discriminate against a worker based on her being pregnant.

This applies to all matters related to employment, such as salary, job responsibilities, hiring (employers cannot use pregnancy as a reason not to hire someone) and firing decisions, layoffs, benefits, leave and vacation, promotions and others. This condition also applies to childbirth and other pregnancy-related medical conditions. After your pregnancy, you must be reinstated in the same way in which your employer does so with other employees with temporary disabilities.

2. It is illegal to harass someone on the basis of her pregnancy, childbirth or related condition.

Of course, harassment is illegal in many contexts, not just when it’s related to pregnancy. However, it’s important to keep the definition of harassment in mind and remember that it encompasses a range of behaviors, including what some might deem as lighthearted jokes. Anyone can be a harasser in an employment context, including managers, coworkers, clients, vendors and others.

3. Pregnant workers are entitled to the same benefits as other temporarily disabled workers. 

For example, if an employer grants unpaid leave to temporarily disabled workers, those whose pregnancy puts them in this category must be afforded the same benefits. An employer is not allowed to require special conditions for pregnant workers to assess their ability to work. However, if the employer requires documentation from a physician or other assessments, pregnant workers are subject to the same policies. This also applies to policies such as sick leave; if other temporarily disabled workers are entitled to use their sick days for their conditions, so too are pregnant workers.

4. Pregnant workers are entitled to reasonable accommodations.

All workers with temporary disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations unless doing so would place an undue burden on the employer, and, again, pregnant workers are no different. An employer must demonstrate a justification for refusing to provide these accommodations.

5. Your job and responsibilities must not be modified because of your pregnancy.

This concerns a multitude of subjects. For example, your employer may not require you to take a leave of absence during your pregnancy if you are able to continue to work. They must also not change your duties if you are able to fulfill them. You should not be subject to any tests to evaluate your fitness to work unless all other employees are required to take them, too. Your seniority at your job should not be affected by your pregnancy or any disability leave your take, and your ability to be promoted should not be affected, either. Moreover, your employer must hold your job for the length of time they would another worker on leave for medical reasons.

6. Your benefits must not be affected.

You must be able to retain any benefits, such as health insurance and paid time off (PTO). Employer-provided health care must not be affected, either; for example, you cannot be required to pay a larger deductible than you have been paying previously.

Americans with Disabilities Act

Women who are unable to perform her job responsibilities temporarily because of a pregnancy- or childbirth-related medical condition must be treated just like any other temporarily disabled worker. In terms of pregnancy work restrictions, these means:

7. Some conditions and impairments arising from pregnancy are considered disabilities under the ADA.

These can include conditions such as preeclampsia. Being subject to the ADA means employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations, again, unless doing so would pose undue hardship to the employer. This might include the ability to work from home or temporary leave.

Family and Medical Leave Act

FMLA applies to many different circumstances, including workers who need to care for family members who are ill. It also applies to new parents, including those who have given birth, have adopted a child or are fostering a child. 

8. Workers whose employers are subject to FMLA are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period.

FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees who work within a 75-mile radius of the employer’s worksite. Employees must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and 1,250 hours during a one-year period to be eligible. During your leave, your job must be protected, and you must continue to be eligible to receive the same benefits you had been receiving prior to your leave. You must be reinstated in your job or an equivalent one when you return. There are certain exceptions — for instance, if you are unable to perform essential job functions upon your return (unless you’re otherwise covered by the ADA) you may not be reinstated.

State Laws

All employers are workers are subject to federal laws related to pregnancy, and some states have additional laws concerning pregnancy and childbirth and the workplace. These laws vary from state to state, so you should make sure to look up the requirements for eligibility, paperwork and more, as well as the specific terms for your state. See New York's laws as an example below.

New York.

In New York, all employers with four or more employees are required to provide reasonable accommodations related to pregnancy, childbirth and medical conditions that arise from either to enable them to do their work. Examples include equipment, such as special chairs; time off after giving birth; assistance with tasks that pose a physical strain or risk; and breaks. Employers must prominently provide and post a policy for employees to reference for requesting accommodations. Employees must not be retaliated against for requesting accommodations.

Employers must not require proof of pregnancy and may only ask for a doctor’s note if the accommodations include the worker needing time away from the workplace.

New York City employers are also subject to its Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which requires employers to provide accommodations for women related to their pregnancy, childbirth or related medical condition whether or not their condition is considered a disability. 

Many employees in New York State may take Paid Family Leave, although some categories of workers are not subject to the law. The benefit is also voluntary for public employers. Self-employed workers may voluntarily opt into PFL. The amount of pay and conditions of the law vary according to the situation and other circumstances.

What to do if you believe your rights have been violated.

If you know or believe your rights as a pregnant worker have been violated, your first option is to bring it to the attention of your employer. They may not be aware that they’re violating any laws, and your bringing it to their attention could rectify the matters. Make sure to document and keep records of any incriminating incidents and communication regarding the matter both before and after you discuss it with your employer.

If you’re afraid or concerned about doing so, or if you already have discussed the matter with your manager or HR department and it hasn’t been resolved, you should file a pregnancy discrimination claim with the Equality Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You must do so with 180 days of when the discrimination occurred. Upon determining whether or not your case has merit, the EEOC will take one of several approaches, including attempting mediation between you and your employer to resolve the issue. They may also either file a lawsuit on your behalf themselves or issue you a “right to sue” statement asserting your right to file the lawsuit yourself.

Ultimately, you may be entitled to monetary compensation, reinstatement of your job or another form of compensation, should your case be settled or if you are successful.

Keep in mind that it’s illegal for your employer to retaliate against you for filing a claim with the EEOC (in terms of firing or creating hostile work conditions).

NB: We are not attorneys or legal experts. This article is to be used for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer legal advice. If you do need legal advice, you should consult an employment attorney.

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