Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was a huge step toward the goal of workplace equality for the women of America. However, even today, pregnancy discrimination threatens the financial security of pregnant women as well as their families. In some cases, pregnancy discrimination leads to devastating consequences for these pregnant women and their families.

Of the 68 million female workers, 78 percent will become pregnant during their lifetime. Women who are pregnant and/or suffering from medical conditions related to pregnancy tend to face discrimination in workplaces. The purpose of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was to help eliminate discrimination against pregnant employees. However, while the Pregnancy Discrimination Act has been in effect for longer than three decades, pregnant women still face unfair treatment and negative stereotypes.

According to a United Kingdom study, about 76 percent of the employers surveyed said they would refuse to hire a female employee if they were aware she would be impregnated within the next half year. Other studies, which were conducted by Rice University and George Mason University researchers, found that women who looked pregnant when applying for jobs were more likely to face hostility and patronization. It is also against the law for employers to retaliate against individuals for opposing their employment practices that involve pregnancy discrimination. Employers also can't retaliate against individuals for filing a claim for discrimination, testifying, or partaking in an investigation.

What is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act? How Does the PDA Protect the Rights of Female Employees?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act made an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to explicitly protect women against pregnancy discrimination. According to the PDA, discrimination on the basis of childbirth, pregnancy, or other related medical conditions is considered illegal sex discrimination. The PDA disallows employers from discriminating against job applicants or employees due to their pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions. The PDA disallows discrimination when it comes to:

  • Hiring
  • Pay
  • Firing
  • Promotion
  • Employment benefits

The PDA does not allow employers to preclude or limit women from performing certain jobs because they are pregnant or fertile. Policies that mostly impact women because they can get pregnant are also disallowed by the PDA. The PDA is only applicable to employers who have at least 15 employees. The PDA states that women who are pregnant or who have pregnancy-related conditions must be treated in the same way as other employees and job applicants who have similar limitations or abilities. Many states have also enacted laws when it comes to breast-feeding and pregnancy discrimination.

Can Employers Terminate Female Employees After Finding Out They Have Become Impregnated?

Under the PDA, if an employer has at least 15 employees, they cannot fire an employee simply because they have become pregnant. The employer must allow the pregnant employee to work for the company as long as they are able to. If the pregnant employee is working at a company with fewer than 15 employees, the employee should check their local U.S. Department of Labor's Women's Bureau office. The state might have an agency that can help the pregnant employee.

If an Employee Files a Complaint about Violation of the PDA, Can the Employer Terminate the Employee?

It is against the law for an employer to punish a person for opposing the employer's employment practices that involve discriminating against employees or job applicants on the basis of pregnancy or for filing a claim, testifying, or partaking in an investigation.

Can a Pregnant Employee Be Skipped for a Major Promotion Due to Her Pregnancy?

It is against the law for an employer to bypass an employee for a major promotion because of pregnancy. This is because the PDA applies to all aspects of employment and not just firing and hiring.

How Long Must Employers Hold a Job Position Open for Pregnant Employees Who Take a Sick Leave?

Employers must leave the job position of a pregnant employee open the same amount of time that they would a position for an employee who is disabled or on leave.

Does Marital Status Matter When It Comes to Employee Benefits for Pregnant but Unmarried Employees?

Employees must receive the same pregnancy-related benefits no matter their marital status.

If an employee is on leave due to disabilities related to pregnancy, the employer must treat the employee the same when it comes to any accrual, benefit, and vacation calculation as employees who leave for disabilities that are not related to pregnancy.

In 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) received 5,797 claims and complaints about discrimination related to pregnancy. Employees have the right to file a claim with the EEOC to report discrimination. The EEOC is a federal agency that is responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination laws, such as the PDA.

  • Employees should not wait if they want to file a claim with the EEOC.
  • Most of the time, employees are required to file a discrimination claim with the EEOC within six months of the discriminatory action in order to retain legal rights.
  • Employees can file a claim with the EEOC even if they don't work at the same company anymore.
  • Employees are not required to hire an attorney to file a claim.
  • Employees simply need to go to the EEOC website to look up the instructions for filing a claim of discrimination.

Even if an employee isn't ready to file a claim at the moment, they can speak to a counselor at the EEOC to learn more about their legal rights. The EEOC may offer mediation services or investigate in order to help deal with the issue. Most local and state governments have offices for civil rights or human rights.

Hiring Pregnant Workers

Employers are not permitted to refuse to hire a woman due to her pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions. The prejudices of customers, co-workers, and clients cannot play a role in whether a pregnant worker is hired. As long as the pregnant job applicant can do the job, the employer should hire the applicant in spite of her pregnancy and related conditions.

Steps When Filing with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

In order to file a claim with the EEOC, the employee should write down the time, date, and place of the incident as soon as they get the chance. They should also document what was said and any witnesses to the event. The employee should keep at least one copy of these notes at home so that they are accessible if the employee decides to take legal action or file a complaint with the employer.

The employee should speak to a union representative. The union rules will allow the employee to file a grievance. If the employee doesn't have a union, the employee can call a civil rights group or a women's group for health. The employee should also speak to her employer. Many companies have Equal Employment Opportunity Officers while other companies offer a formal way for employees to file a complaint. Mediation is one way some companies have resolved issues. The employee should refer to her employee handbook to learn more about the procedures for filing a complaint. The employee should continue doing a good job at work and keep a record of job evaluations, memos, and letters that show she does a great job at work. Later, the employer may criticize the employee's job performance to justify their discrimination. Since job discrimination is a difficult thing to deal with without support, the employee should seek support from her family and friends. Fighting discrimination is also often a very difficult and stressful process.

Pregnancy and Maternity Leave

As long as pregnant employees are able to perform their jobs, employers cannot force the employees to take a leave. However, if the pregnant employee is unable to do her job due to her pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions, the employer must treat the employee's situation the same as other employees who are temporarily disabled. For example, the employer must provide alternating assignments, modified tasks, or offer leave without pay or disability leave.

If an employee is on leave due to a pregnancy-related condition and ends up recovering, the employer cannot force the employee to remain on leave until the baby is born. The employer cannot force the employee to remain on leave for a certain amount of time after the baby is born.

Some employers require their employees to send in a doctor's statement about their lack of ability to work before granting sick benefits or leave. Therefore, employers may ask pregnant employees to send in such statements from their physician before going on sick leave or receiving sick benefits.

Health Insurance for Employees Who Are Pregnant or Have a Pregnant Spouse

All health insurance plans that employers offer to their employees have to cover expenses for conditions related to pregnancy the same way these plans cover the expenses for other medical conditions. Health insurance plans do not have to cover abortion expenses unless the life of the mother is in danger. The health insurance plan must reimburse pregnancy-related expenses the same way as other medical conditions are reimbursed. This should be true whether the payment is a percentage or on a fixed basis. Employers must offer the same health benefits for the spouses of male employees as they do for the spouses of female employees. The employer can only limit the amounts payable by the health insurance plan to the same extent as amounts payable for other forms of conditions. There can be no larger, additional, or increased deductibles.

Fringe Benefits for Pregnant Employees

If an employer offers benefits to workers who are on leave, the employer must give the same benefits to employees who are on leave for pregnancy-related conditions. The benefits must be offered for pregnancies if benefits are offered for other types of medical conditions for a job classification or for an all-female workforce.

Pregnant Employees and the Family and Medical Leave Act – FMLA

Pregnant employees may enjoy more rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA permits pregnant women to take time off due to complications associated with a pregnancy, a childbirth, or to care for the newborn child. Employees who have been working for a company for less than a year may be eligible for leave according to certain federal and state family and medical leave laws.

How Does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act Protect You?

An employer can't ask a pregnant employee to go through special procedures just to figure out if the employee can do their job duties. The pregnant employee should only be subject to the same procedures as all other employees. An employer is not allowed to keep a pregnant woman from taking a leave, and the employer cannot disallow a woman from going back to work after childbirth.

All health insurance plans provided by employers need to treat conditions that are pregnancy-related the same way as other medical conditions. Employers are not allowed to have pregnant employees pay larger deductibles for health insurance than other employees.

History of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

Prior to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, discrimination against pregnant employees was common and legal. In the 1960s and 1970s, as more women gained entrance into the workforce, employers were allowed to legally fire and refuse to hire pregnant job applicants. In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that pregnancy discrimination was not sex discrimination. This has since changed.

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