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Pregnancy Discrimination

Employers sometimes treat pregnant women less favorably. The most common kinds of unfair treatment meted out to them are:

  • Charging women a higher premium for health insurance, to cover the additional cost of pregnancy
  • Paying those on maternity leave at a lower rate than those on other kinds of leave
  • Establishing shorter time limits for maternity leave
  • Making pregnant employees take mandatory leave even if they do not want to, or denying employees on maternity leave credit for seniority that others taking leave enjoy
  • Promoting a non-pregnant employee
  • Constantly subjected them to insensitive remarks.

These double-standard practices towards pregnant employees is in violation of federal and state law. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.

Once the employee becomes pregnant, she enters the category of protected class under the law. The employee should be aware of her rights, the amount of paid or unpaid leave she can take, company policy regarding pregnant employees, and other continued benefits.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is an amendment to Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions that constitute unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. Women affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations.

The law states:

  • An employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because of her pregnancy-related condition, as long as she is able to perform the major functions of the job
  • An employer cannot refuse to hire her because of its prejudices against pregnant workers, or the prejudices of co-workers, clients or customers
  • An employer may not single out pregnancy-related conditions for special procedures to determine an employee's ability to work
  • An employer may use any procedure used to screen other employees' ability to work; for example, if an employer requires its employees to submit a doctor's statement concerning their inability to work before granting leave or paying sick benefits, the employer may also require employees affected by pregnancy-related conditions to submit such statements.
  • If an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job due to pregnancy, the employer must treat her the same as any other temporarily-disabled employee; for example, by providing modified tasks, alternative assignments, disability leave, or leave without pay.
  • Pregnant employees must be permitted to work as long as they are able to perform their jobs.
  • If an employee has been absent from work as a result of a pregnancy-related condition and recovers, her employer may not require her to remain on leave until the baby's birth.
  • An employer may not have arule which prohibits an employee from returning to work for a pre-determined length of time after childbirth
  • Employers must hold open a job for a pregnancy-related absence for the same length of time that jobs are held open for employees on sick leave or disability leave
  • Any health insurance provided by an employer must cover expenses for pregnancy-related conditions on the same basis as costs for other medical conditions
  • Health insurance for expenses arising from abortion is not required, except where the life of the mother is endangered
  • Pregnancy-related expenses should be reimbursed exactly as those incurred for other medical conditions, whether payment is on a fixed basis or a percentage of reasonable-and-customary charge basis.
  • The amounts payable by the insurance provider can be limited only to the same extent as costs for other conditions
  • No additional, increased or larger deductible can be imposed
  • Employers must provide the same level of health benefits for spouses of male employees as they do for spouses of female employees
  • Pregnancy-related benefits cannot be limited to married employees
  • In an all-female workforce or job classification, benefits must be provided for pregnancy-related conditions if benefits are provided for other medical conditions
  • If an employer provides any benefits to workers on leave, the employer must provide the same benefits for those on leave for pregnancy-related conditions
  • Employees with pregnancy-related disabilities must be treated the same as other temporarily-disabled employees for accrual and crediting of seniority, vacation calculation, pay increases, and temporary disability benefits.

Some state laws have ruled pregnancy as per se (“in or by itself”) disability, requiring the employer to make reasonable accommodations when requested by the employee. For example: State laws may allow pregnant employees to work from home (if practical) or rearrange their work schedules because of physical demands of pregnancy. Only if the accommodation causes undue hardship on the employer can the employer refuse to offer it. It is advisable to check your state laws and company privileges.

If the pregnant woman believes that she has been discriminated against on the basis of pregnancy or fired because of that, she has every right to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), or the appropriate state anti-discrimination agency. She can also consult an attorney for further legal action against the employer.

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