Is there such a thing as pregnancy discrimination in the workplace?

Is there such a thing as pregnancy discrimination in the workplace?

Pregnancy and childbirth are a wonderful time in a woman’s life. From the first moment she discovers she’s pregnant until she takes home a newborn, she has much to do. One of the things she shouldn’t have to be concerned about is her job and pregnancy discrimination.

Young pregnant woman at a Denver office working.

Many companies have specific policies and procedures in place to accommodate a woman during and after her pregnancy, including accommodations. Most companies implement temporary work re-assignments to accommodate a shorter work schedule. Some companies may hire a temporary worker or two while the worker is out on maternity leave. But not all companies are as progressive and forward-thinking.

There are laws in place to protect pregnant women from being singled out. But gender discrimination or pregnancy discrimination is still a widespread problem nationwide, particularly among low-income women. Many employers will find a way to terminate a woman’s employment due to her pregnancy, despite the fact that it’s highly illegal.

Employment termination is frequently disguised as a layoff, couched in less-than-favorable performance reviews, or a policy violation that wasn’t there before, such as tardiness without a doctor’s note or an increase in a weight-lift requirement. This directly impacts the woman’s family, since the income is cut off when they need it the most. Since pregnancy is exclusive to females, it can also be considered “gender discrimination.” 

Laws against pregnancy discrimination

Both state and federal law prohibit pregnancy discrimination:

  • Pregnancy Accommodations In Colorado, in which an employer is required to offer “reasonable accommodations” to a pregnant employee, unless it would cause an undue hardship to the company. It also prevents an employer from taking “adverse actions” against an employee for requesting an accommodation. Requesting a doctor’s note for the requested accommodation is acceptable.
    • An employer must provide a reasonable accommodation for a pregnant employee as they would for an employee experiencing a different disabling health conditions (i.e., broken bones, stroke, recuperation after reparative surgery, etc.)
  • The Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination for pregnancy as well as other common reason, such as race, creed, nationality, orientation, age, and other factors. This act requires all employers, regardless of size, comply with the state laws against discrimination.
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 specifically prohibits sex discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy/childbirth. Women are to be treated the same as any other employee with a medical condition with respect to benefits, including healthcare, affected in the same way with a condition that temporarily prevents them from working or limits their ability to work.
  • The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law that prohibits discrimination against disabled workers by companies with more than 15 workers. Conditions related to pregnancy like gestational diabetes and preclampsia are considered disabilities under the law. You can’t be fired, harassed, or denied a promotion because of your pregnancy, nor denied assistance such as extra breaks or being excused from a lifting requirement. FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid guaranteed leave for pregnancy and childbirth.

What Is A “Reasonable Accommodation?”

Like many conditions, pregnancy includes its own symptoms, such as the well-known “morning sickness.” A pregnant woman in the workplace may need some accommodation during pregnancy, including:

  • Job restructuring
  • A temporary modified schedule
  • Increased breaks for restroom, food and water
  • Foot rests
  • Equipment modifications, such as a chair with increased support
  • “Light” duty, including the reduction of weight lift requirements during pregnancy
  • Assistance with manual labor, or a temporary transfer to a less hazardous job

An employer is required to engage in an interactive discussion with the employee to accommodate their needs for assistance. The employer is required to supply reasonable accommodation as long as it doesn’t create an undue hardship for the company. For instance, a request for a new chair would be considered “reasonable,” but a request for an entirely new office to be built would not be.

An employee is not required to accept an accommodation she didn’t request, nor can she be compelled to take leave if the employer can provide a reasonable accommodation.

What you can do about pregnancy discrimination

Both state and federal law prohibit an employer from using your pregnancy as a factor in decision making for:

  • The hiring and interview process
  • Wages, benefits and other pay-related decisions
  • Promotions, transfers, demotions or other disciplinary actions
  • Retaliation for taking leaves of absence
  • Disciplinary action, such as suspensions and termination
  • Layoffs and other forms of termination

If you’re a victim of pregnancy discrimination, you do have options. The EEOC offers a list of facts about pregnancy discrimination, and you can file a complaint with the EEOC as well.

It’s important to begin keeping documentation of any attempts at discrimination in the workplace that you notice. For instance, if another individual is being accommodated for a different type of injury, but you aren’t. If something has “changed” at work after notifying your supervisor of your pregnancy, or you’ve heard an increase in inappropriate remarks about your pregnancy, keep a written record. If you are being singled out, this written record will go a long way in proving your case.

If you’ve been terminated, fired, laid off, or had other adverse actions taken against you once you’ve revealed your pregnancy, it’s time to speak with a civil rights attorney who can defend you and protect your rights.

Workplace discrimination is against the law

The US has very strict laws against discrimination, particularly for a pregnant woman. Colorado also offers protections if you believe you’ve been targeted because of your pregnancy. Call The Civil Rights Litigation Group today at (720) 515-6165 for a free consultation. We’re experienced in helping people like you fight back. We can help you file your EEOC complaint, and represent you in court when the time comes.

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