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Employment Law Basics Part 2: Pregnancy Discrimination

In part 2 of this blog series, we will discuss basic information regarding pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Many employees do not know that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is not the only statute that protects female employees who become pregnant. Here are some of the basics, but if you have questions about your specific rights as a pregnant employee, contact us and we can answer them for you.

What Does Pregnancy Discrimination Include?

Pregnancy discrimination occurs when a woman is treated unfavorably because she is pregnant, has given birth, or has a medical condition that is related to her pregnancy or childbirth. Employees may also be considered temporarily disabled because of their pregnancy and it is unlawful to discriminate against them for that reason. In light of those different types of discrimination, there are several federal statutes that can protect an employee.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees or applicants because of their pregnancy, including hiring, termination, compensation, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, fringe benefits, and training.

When a female employee is unable to perform her job duties because of a pregnancy-related medical condition, she must be treated the same as all other employees who are considered temporarily disabled. For instance, if employers provide light duty, disability leave, unpaid leave, or alternative job duties, for non-pregnant employees, they must provide the same options to pregnant employees.

Pregnancy-Based Harassment in the Workplace

Just like racial harassment or sexual harassment, it is unlawful for employers or co-workers to harass an employee or applicant because she is pregnant, had a child, or is suffering from a pregnancy-related medical condition. Harassment includes offensive comments about pregnancy or childbirth, but typically does not include what would be considered simple teasing or isolated comments. Like other types of workplace harassment, the comments or conduct need to be sufficiently frequent or severe to create a hostile work environment in order to be actionable. The harassment can also be unlawful when it results in an adverse employment decision such as termination or demotion.

Various Forms of Medical Leave Related to Pregnancy

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to treat pregnant women the same as other employees. That means, if an employer provides disability leave or leave without pay to temporarily disabled employees, it must provide the same leave to a pregnant employee. To put it another way, an employer is not allowed to single out pregnant employees or pregnancy-related medical conditions through its policies or procedures. If an employer requires a doctor’s certification before granting leave to non-pregnant employees, the same can be required of pregnant employees.

Additional Protections Under the FMLA

Pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act, new parents (which includes adoptive parents and foster parents) are eligible for 12 weeks of leave in order to care for a new child. The leave can be paid or unpaid but the same must be provided to all employees – both pregnant and non-pregnant. The Family and Medical Leave Act is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor.

If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Wrady Michel & King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 319-9724. We are here to serve you!