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Pregnant at Work? Know Your Rights!

pregnant employee

In a world that’s always changing, something wonderful is happening for working women. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is now a reality, marking a huge win for moms-to-be who need to balance their jobs and pregnancy. It’s about time to consider how many pregnant workers have faced unfair treatment in the past – and still do – feeling like they don’t belong in the workplace.

Nearly 20% of women have said they experienced pregnancy-related discrimination at work in some form, and it shows we need a big change. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act is here to help turn the tide, however, expecting moms also need to be aware of their rights so they can have the confidence to be both pregnant and successful at work without any worries.

Need to Know Your Rights as a Pregnant Worker

Knowing about what kind of legal protections are in place for pregnant workers becomes even more important when you realize that almost half the workforce is made up of women and 85% of them will be pregnant during their careers.

Despite the Pregnancy Discrimination Act being in place for over 40 years, pregnant women still face discrimination in the workplace. Countless lawsuits have been filed by women who faced pregnancy discrimination at work, and many of these cases involve well-known companies like Walmart, AT&T, Merck, 21st Century Fox, and Whole Foods.

Surprisingly, even organizations that were specifically created to support women, like Planned Parenthood, have had similar cases filed against them. This shows that pregnancy discrimination is a widespread problem that can affect women working in various industries and organizations.

Notably, many women don’t know their rights or how to stand up for themselves when they are pregnant. On top of that, the state and federal laws protecting pregnant workers vary widely, which makes it hard to understand the available legal options. In some places, talking about these laws has helped reduce discrimination, but it still happens a lot.

Our workplace discrimination claims attorneys at Levine & Blit, LLC, have in-depth knowledge of how employers treat pregnant workers unfairly. Some might say they can’t afford to give time off during busy periods, and women with lower-paying jobs might get fired as soon as they share their pregnancy news. If you have a professional, white-collar job, you might face more subtle forms of discrimination, like being kept away from important projects or missing out on raises and promotions. But you should know that the law is on your side.

What are Pregnancy Discrimination Laws?

If you’re pregnant or might become pregnant, and your employer has 15 or more workers, you have rights under federal law. These rights, courtesy of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), protect you from unfair treatment at work because of your pregnancy.

The PDA is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which specifically prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or any resulting medical issues. It basically says that employers can’t treat you unfairly because:

  • You were pregnant
  • You are pregnant
  • You have a medical condition related to pregnancy
  • You could become pregnant, or plan to become pregnant
  • You had or are considering an abortion

This means you cannot be fired, given less important tasks, turned down for a job or promotion, or forced to take leave for any of these reasons. Simply put, you can’t be treated unfairly in areas like hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, training, and benefits like leave and health insurance. Your boss can’t give you a less desirable job because of your pregnancy, or deny you a promotion, or say, stop you from attending a conference because you’re pregnant.

While your employer doesn’t have to keep you in a job you can’t do, or where you might be a risk to others – they cannot take you out of your job or force you on a leave just because they think work could be risky for you or your pregnancy.

Now, before 2023, the law didn’t require employers to make special accommodations for pregnant workers unless they were already doing so for other employees with health issues. But the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act that went into effect in June 2023 has changed that.

What is the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act?

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) is a new law that helps pregnant workers by giving them the right to “reasonable accommodations” at work to keep them and their pregnancies healthy. It’s mandatory for employers with over 15 employees and requires them to make reasonable changes for workers dealing with pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions unless it’s too complicated or expensive for the employer.

A childbirth or pregnancy-related condition can include:

  • Morning sickness
  • Lactation or needing to express breast milk
  • Pregnancy-related carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Injuries from childbirth
  • Sciatica
  • Miscarriage
  • Recovery from abortion
  • Postpartum depression

Also, you don’t need to prove you have a disability to get help from the PWFA – it protects you if you have a “known limitation” from pregnancy, childbirth, or a health issue listed above, even if it’s not a disability.

Types of Workplace Accommodations You Can Ask For

As per the PWFA, you can ask for different kinds of accommodations at workplace to help you stay safe and do your job. These may include:

  • Having a stool to sit on if standing causes pain or swelling
  • Being allowed to drink water if a no-food-or-drink policy is in place
  • Changing work schedules for doctor’s appointments
  • Reassigning heavy lifting duties to other employees during pregnancy
  • Providing a different job or light duty position if needed
  • Allowing the use of an empty office as a lactation room
  • Taking time off to recover from childbirth

Your employer must provide a reasonable accommodation unless it’s too expensive or simply not realistic for the business. They should talk with you about your needs and suggest different options. What’s considered a reasonable accommodation for a pregnant worker can vary depending on individual needs and job requirements, they should include:

  • Flexible work hours
  • Frequent (extra) breaks
  • Modified work duties (temporarily reassigning heavy lifting or physically demanding tasks to other employees)
  • Comfortable seating options for employees who usually stand for long periods
  • Height-adjustable desk or supportive chair to reduce strain on the body
  • Remote, work-from-home opportunities
  • Light duty assignments that are less physically demanding during pregnancy.
  • A private, clean lactation room
  • Job-protected leave (unpaid or paid)

Keep in mind that your employer can’t force you to accept accommodation without discussing it with you first. In some cases, religious institutions can deny accommodations, but they should still work with you to find other options. For instance, a religious school that needs a substitute teacher for a class on their faith’s teachings might choose to hire a new substitute teacher who shares their beliefs instead of giving a pregnant female employee the opportunity to take that lighter-duty job as an accommodation.

In this situation, the religious school is allowed to make that choice based on their faith, without violating the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. Based on this, the school should keep working with the pregnant employee to find a different way to make her job easier during her pregnancy.

Know Your Employer’s Responsibility to Provide a Safe Workplace

A safe workplace is crucial for everyone, but it’s especially important for pregnant employees as they face considerable health risks during pregnancy:

  • Heavy lifting, standing for long periods, or exposure to certain chemicals might increase the risk of complications during pregnancy.
  • Pregnant workers should be cautious of tasks that can cause physical strain, like carrying heavy objects, bending, or reaching.
  • Pregnant employees should also be aware of workplace hazards like slippery floors, loud noises, or high temperatures.

Employers play a big role in making sure that the work environment supports the health and well-being of expecting mothers. Here’s what they can do to create a secure space:

Identify potential risks

Employers need to be proactive in recognizing job tasks and work conditions that might harm workers who are expecting. For example, they should consider the risks of handling hazardous materials, lifting heavy objects, or standing for long periods. Employers can consult with health and safety professionals or review guidelines from organizations like OSHA regarding potential hazards.

Provide reasonable accommodations

As discussed earlier, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires employers with over 15 employees to offer reasonable adjustments for pregnant workers. These accommodations can be simple yet impactful changes, such as adjusting work hours to accommodate prenatal appointments, allowing more frequent breaks for restroom visits, or providing a chair for employees who usually stand during their shifts.

Foster open communication

Employers should create a welcoming atmosphere where all employees feel comfortable discussing their needs and concerns. This can go a long in helping employers better understand what adjustments might be necessary to maintain a safe work environment. Regular check-ins with pregnant employees can also help address any issues promptly.

Train supervisors and managers

To effectively support expecting mothers in the workplace, it’s crucial that supervisors and managers understand the relevant laws and company policies. Employers can offer training sessions or workshops to ensure that everyone is well-informed about the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, and any state-specific regulations.

Keep medical information confidential

Respecting the privacy of pregnant employees is vital. Employers must follow the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) guidelines to protect their medical information. This means keeping any pregnancy-related documents in a secure location, separate from general personnel files, and limiting access to authorized personnel only.

Prevent discrimination and harassment

Last, but not the least, employers should actively work to prevent pregnancy discrimination and harassment in order to create a truly inclusive environment. This includes clearly communicating company policies, promptly addressing any incidents, and providing support for affected employees. Familiarizing staff with laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the New York State Human Rights Law, or the California Fair Employment and Housing Act can help prevent such issues from arising.

Protect Your Job and Maternity Leave with the Family and Medical Leave Act

In addition to the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, there’s one other law in place to help you balance work and family life. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), authorized workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for specific family or medical reasons, without losing their job or health insurance.

You don’t have to be pregnant to be able to qualify for FMLA leave; you can take it for:

  • Welcoming a new baby, either by birth, adoption, or foster care
  • Recovering from a serious health condition, like surgery or a long illness
  • Caring for a close family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition
  • Managing situations related to a close family member’s military deployment

The best part is that your job is protected if you need to take unpaid leave under the FMLA. So, you can come back to the same job you had before you took the leave. If for some reason that job isn’t available anymore, your employer has to provide you with a position that’s pretty much the same in terms of pay, benefits, and responsibilities.

However, to be eligible for FMLA, you need to meet the below criteria:

  • You must work for a company with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius
  • You need to have worked for your employer for at least 12 months (not necessarily consecutive)
  • You should have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months before your leave

If you are eligible for taking the leave, you can take your 12 weeks all at once or spread them out, even using them for a part-time schedule. Of course, it’s best to give your employer a 30-day notice when possible, like for planned events like a baby’s arrival. They may ask for documentation, like a doctor’s note, to confirm the reason for your leave.

When you return from FMLA leave, your employer must give you the same job or an equivalent one. And most importantly, the employer must continue your health insurance coverage during your leave, just like when you were working. And if you think you might face some kind of retaliation for taking FMLA leave – that’s illegal and you can file charges against the employer. You absolutely cannot be punished for using the Family Medical Leave Act.

Where to Turn for Support

If you believe you’re being discriminated against in the workplace due to your pregnancy, it’s important to take action to protect your rights. Here are some steps you can follow:

Document incidents

Keep a detailed record of any incidents of discrimination or harassment. Write down dates, times, locations, the people involved, and what happened. This information can be useful if you decide to file a complaint or take legal action.

Review company policies

Check your employer’s policies on discrimination, harassment, and pregnancy accommodations. Familiarize yourself with these guidelines so you can determine if your rights are being violated.

Speak to your supervisor or HR

Talk to your supervisor or human resources department about your concerns. Explain the situation, provide evidence, and ask for support in resolving the issue. Keep a record of these conversations as well.

File an internal complaint

If speaking to your supervisor or HR doesn’t lead to a satisfactory resolution, consider filing a formal complaint within your company. Follow your employer’s procedures for filing complaints, and provide as much detail and evidence as possible.

Contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

If you believe your employer isn’t addressing your concerns or you’re still experiencing discrimination, you can file a complaint with the EEOC. This federal agency enforces laws against workplace discrimination, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). You can visit the EEOC website or call their toll-free number (1-800-669-4000) to learn more about the complaint process.

Consult a pregnancy discrimination lawyer

If you’re unsure about your rights or need help understanding your legal options, consider consulting with a pregnancy discrimination attorney who specializes in employment law or discrimination cases. They can offer advice, review your evidence, and help you determine the best course of action.

Remember, there are deadlines (statute of limitations) for filing complaints with the EEOC and other agencies, so it’s crucial not to delay if you want to protect your rights. For example, under federal law, you must file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC within 180 calendar days from the day the discrimination took place. This deadline applies to claims under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and other federal anti-discrimination laws.

These deadlines are extremely strict, so if you miss one, it may prevent you from pursuing your claim. Our employment discrimination attorneys at Levine & Blit, LLC can help you file the charges with the EEOC and also assist if you decide to pursue a lawsuit after the EEOC has completed its investigation or issued a right-to-sue letter.

Facing Discrimination as a Pregnant Worker? Let Levine & Blit Help You Obtain Justice

If you believe you have faced or are currently facing discrimination at work due to your pregnancy, the employment discrimination attorneys at Levine & Blit, LLC are the right choice to help you navigate this challenging situation. With over 100 years of combined legal experience, our attorneys have successfully handled numerous employment and sex discrimination cases across the nation, including those related to pregnancy.

Our firm has secured multi-million dollar settlements and verdicts for our clients, demonstrating our commitment to achieving the best possible outcome for your case. When you work with us, here are the steps we will take:

  • During the initial consultation, we will listen to your concerns, evaluate your situation, and determine if you have a valid pregnancy discrimination claim.
  • We will gather crucial evidence to support your claims, such as employment records, medical documentation, internal communications, and witness statements.
  • If required, we will file a complaint on your behalf with the appropriate agency, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or your state’s human rights agency.
  • We will negotiate with your employer to reach a fair settlement, which may include financial compensation, reinstatement, or changes to your working conditions.
  • If a settlement can’t be reached, we will take the battle to court.

Your journey to motherhood should be filled with joy and excitement, not anxiety and stress. As your legal advocates, we are here to make sure that your right to work while pregnant is fiercely protected, so you can focus on creating precious memories with your growing family. Reach out to us today at 646-461-6838 or through our online form to schedule a Free Case Evaluation with the leading pregnancy discrimination lawyers in the US.

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