Pregnancy is a momentous and life-changing event in a woman’s life. It’s a time of anticipation, excitement, and sometimes, anxiety. While many employers are supportive and accommodating during this period, there have been instances where pregnant women have faced discrimination in the workplace. Fortunately, there are legal protections in place to combat this injustice. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, has made it clear that pregnancy discrimination is against the law.
Statutory protection against sex discrimination did not exist on the federal level until passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII of the Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. However, for many years, pregnancy was not explicitly included as a protected category under Title VII. As a result, pregnant women were often the victims of gross injustice as they were denied promotions, demoted, or even fired solely because of their pregnancy. Women were often forced to choose between their career and starting a family. Thus, in 1978, Congress enacted the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) establishing that discrimination on the basis of pregnancy was a violation of Title VII.
The PDA was a vital amendment to Title VII, and it explicitly prohibited discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This amendment clarified that employers could not treat pregnant employees less favorably than other employees based on their pregnancy status.
The PDA has several key provisions that ensure pregnant women are protected in the workplace:
- Hiring and Employment: Employers are prohibited from refusing to hire a woman because she is pregnant, so long as she is able to perform the essential functions of the job. Pregnant women must be treated the same as any other job applicant and must be given the same opportunity for promotion.
- Health Benefits: Pregnant employees are entitled to the same health benefits as other employees. This includes medical coverage for pregnancy-related expenses, such as prenatal care and childbirth.
- Light Duty and Accommodations: Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees who need them, to the same extent they do for employees with short-term disabilities.
- Protection for Retaliation: It is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for asserting their rights under the PDA. This means that if a pregnant employee speaks up about discrimination or requests accommodations, the employer cannot take adverse action against her in response.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act has been a significant step towards equality in the workplace as it establishes that employers are legally bound to treat pregnant employees with the same professional opportunities for growth, development, and job security as their non-pregnant colleagues.
However, despite these legal protections, pregnancy discrimination persists. Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is both unethical and illegal. Therefore, it is important for women who believe they have been subjected to pregnancy discrimination to be aware of their rights and seek legal assistance if necessary. Employers and employees should consult experienced legal counsel to be fully advised of their rights and obligations under the law. If you or a close friend or family member needs assistance in this area, consult the Employment Team at the Finney Law Firm.