7 Things You Need to Know about Pregnancy Discrimination

Close-up of a pregnant woman seated at a desk.

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October 31, 2013

Halloween is a time for thrills and scares, but it also marks the 35th anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Dealing with being a pregnant worker can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Fortunately, the PDA protects the rights of the millions of working women in the United States who will become pregnant at some point in their lives, but many still struggle to have their rights respected.

The first step is to know what your rights are and aren’t. So here are seven things you should know about pregnancy discrimination:

  1. The PDA prohibits discrimination in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, promotion, pay, and other employment benefits. It prohibits policies that limit or prevent women from doing jobs simply because they are fertile or pregnant but also forbids policies that disparately impact women because they are pregnant or able to become pregnant.
  2. The PDA only covers workplaces with 15 or more employees. If you work for an organization with fewer than 15 employees, check with your regional Department of Labor Women’s Bureau office to see if your state has an agency that can assist you.
  3. You cannot be fired for filing a complaint against your employer if you believe she or he has violated the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
  4. You can’t be bypassed for a promotion because you’re pregnant.
  5. If you take pregnancy or maternity leave, your employer must hold open your job the same amount of time a position would be left open for an employee who is on leave because of sickness or disability.
  6. You don’t have to tell potential or current employers that you’re pregnant. An employer cannot refuse to hire you because of your pregnancy as long as you are able to perform the functions of the job and also cannot ask you if you are pregnant or plan to have children.
  7. You can be treated differently based on where you work if you’re pregnant and unmarried. Some courts have held that religious organizations or ones working with youth may discriminate against employees who violate the organizations’ principles condemning premarital sex. However, these employers would need to demonstrate that they do not treat men who are engaged in premarital sex differently than women who are. But at most organizations, pregnancy-related benefits cannot be limited to married employees.

So what should you do if you believe your employer has discriminated against you because of your pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition? You have the right to file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency that enforces many anti-discrimination laws, including the PDA.

Don’t wait if you want to file a charge: In most cases, you must file within 180 days of the discriminatory action to preserve your legal rights. You can file a charge even if you do not work for your employer anymore, and you do not need to hire a lawyer. Go to the EEOC’s website for instructions.

Whether or not you have decided to complain to the EEOC, consider taking these steps:

  1. Write down what happened — the date, time, and place of the incident — as soon as possible. Include what was said and who was there. Keep a copy of these notes at home. They will be useful if you decide to file a complaint with your company or take legal action.
  2. Talk to your union representative if you have one. Union rules often allow you to file a grievance. If you don’t have a union, call a women’s or civil rights group for help.
  3. Talk to your employer. Check your employee handbook for procedures.
  4. Keep doing a good job, and keep a record of your work. Keep copies at home of your job evaluations and any letters or memos that show that you’re doing your job well. Your boss may criticize your performance later on in order to defend his or her discrimination.
  5. Seek support from friends and family. Discrimination at work is a difficult thing to face alone, and the process of fighting back can be very stressful.

If you are interested in speaking with an attorney, your local bar association can offer you a referral. You can also e-mail laf@aauw.org; AAUW’s Legal Advocacy Fund can help direct you to a referral source.

By:   |   October 31, 2013

1 Comment

  1. Patty Tanji says:

    Unfortunately you may never know the reason you did not get hired, a promotion, or a pay raise was because you are pregnant or have an infant or other family responsibilities. The best you can do is be aware that this might be a possibility..and move forward. Muster all your strengths, get a coach (shameless self-promotion) and create a plan to right a wrong, find another employer, focus on your strengths.
    My heart goes out to all pregnant women in the workforce. I was one, it was ugly, I forgave and moved on. You can too.
    I do not recommend suing your boss for a myriad of reasons, one being the stress, strain, and demoralization that occurs when are forced to defend your good actions. Your boss’ will claim your bad work ethic, your bad attitude, etc was the reason you did not get the job, promotion, or pay raise. If you know you are in the right…there is no need to defend your actions.
    Patty Tanji

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