What You Should Know About the Pregnancy Discrimination Act

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A pregnant woman in a workplace experiencing discrimination.If you are pregnant and working, you may have questions about what your rights are as an employee. Certain stages of your pregnancy might make the demands of your job more challenging or impossible. Fortunately, there are a number of laws at the state and federal level that provide protections for pregnant workers.

What Is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) passed in 1978 to amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Discrimination in the workplace on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions that are related is a form of sex discrimination and it is generally unlawful under the PDA. The main standard of the PDA is that employers must treat pregnant employees and non-pregnant employees the same if they are similar in their ability or inability to work.

To Whom Does the PDA Apply?

Employers that have 15 or more employees are subject to the PDA. The PDA applies not only to pregnant women, but women facing multiple pregnancy-related circumstances, including:

  • Pregnancy,
  • Intention to get pregnant,
  • Conditions related to pregnancy,
  • Termination of a pregnancy, or
  • Intention to terminate a pregnancy.

It is also unlawful for your employer to discriminate against you for being unmarried while pregnant.

What Is Discrimination Under the PDA?

Pregnancy discrimination is not limited to getting fired for being pregnant. Discrimination based on pregnancy or a circumstance related to pregnancy can take many forms under the PDA, including:

  • Termination,
  • Demotion,
  • Refusal to promote,
  • Refusal to hire,
  • Refusal to train,
  • Reduction in pay
  • Denial of benefits non-pregnant employees with the same abilities or limitations receive, and
  • Harassment.

Termination, demotion, refusal to hire, and denying work-related benefits are called “adverse employment decisions.” If you can perform the major functions of your job while pregnant or dealing with a pregnancy-related circumstance, your employer cannot make an adverse employment decision against you for pregnancy-related reasons.

Does My Employer Have to Accommodate My Pregnancy-Related Limitations?

Sometimes. Pregnancy can come with many changes or complications that hinder your ability to do your job like before. As your pregnancy progresses, you may not be able to meet the same physical demands you once could. If the major functions of your job do not require you to meet physical demands you cannot perform while pregnant, or if a non-pregnant coworker is similarly limited and has been given work accommodations, your employer’s denial of accommodations for you is likely unlawful. Remember, the main standard under the PDA is whether a non-pregnant employee with the same limitations or abilities would be treated the same way.

While pregnancy is not a disability, some pregnancy-related conditions may qualify as disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you have gestational diabetes, pregnancy-related carpal tunnel syndrome, or some other pregnancy-related medical condition that hinders your work, your employer may have to give you reasonable accommodations, per the ADA, to help you do your job. These accommodations may include less standing, less lifting, and more frequent bathroom breaks. Your employer does not have to give you accommodations if they would create an undue hardship, meaning they are significantly difficult or expensive.

Taking Time Off Due to Pregnancy-Related Circumstances

If you need to take time off for pregnancy-related matters and time off would be available to a non-pregnant employee with similar needs, your employer must give you time off under the PDA. Your employer can require you to follow the same time off request procedures a non-pregnant employee must follow (e.g., a doctor’s note), but nothing more.

Receiving time off under the PDA may not be adequate for a pregnant woman because it is based on the same kind of time a non-pregnant employee would be granted. If your pregnancy requires more time off than the PDA provides, you also have rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the FMLA, you can receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a year for childbirth and serious health conditions, which include pregnancy. While you are on leave under the FMLA, your employer must protect your job and benefits. The FMLA applies only to employers with 50 or more employees and employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the year prior.

If you wish to stay at work through your entire pregnancy, or you wish to return to your job very quickly after giving birth and you are able to do your job, your employer cannot deny you work for being pregnant.  Whether you request leave related to your pregnancy or wish to stay at work as long as possible during your pregnancy, an employer’s denial could constitute unlawful discrimination.

Discrimination cases can be especially hard when you are tending to a new baby, but an experienced employment discrimination legal practitioner can handle your fight while you take care of your family.

Remedies for Pregnancy Discrimination Under the PDA

If you are the victim of pregnancy discrimination, you have access to multiple remedies, including:

  • Job reinstatement,
  • Placement in a job denied to you,
  • Front pay,
  • Back pay,
  • Compensatory damages (for related out-of-pocket expenses),
  • Attorney fees,
  • Expert witness fees,
  • Court costs,
  • Injunctive relief, and
  • Punitive damages.

Punitive damages are available when an employer is particularly malicious or reckless in its discrimination. There are also some limits to which kinds of discrimination cases can receive punitive and compensatory damages.

Time Limits for Filing a Discrimination Charge Under the PDA

If you suspect that your employer has unlawfully mistreated you based on your pregnancy-related circumstance, you must act quickly. You have 180 days to file an employment discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You have six months to file a complaint with the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights. Tending to a pregnancy-related circumstance can be time-consuming and intense, so hiring a lawyer who can meet your important deadlines may be your best option.

Enlist the Support of an Attorney Today

If you are facing job discrimination while pregnant, we are sorry and we are here for you. The employment legal matters lawyers at Smithey Law Group LLC will be compassionate toward your situation. We have the skill, professionalism, work ethic, and kindness to treat your time of need with the care it deserves. Contact us online or call us at 410-881-8190.

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Joyce Smithey, a seasoned employment and labor law attorney, has over 22 years of experience representing both employers and employees in Maryland and D.C. Her practice, rooted in a deep understanding of employment law, spans administrative hearings to federal litigation. Joyce's approach is comprehensive, focusing on protecting client interests while ensuring legal compliance. A Harvard graduate, her career began in Fortune 500 companies, transitioning to law after a degree from Boston University School of Law. Joyce's expertise is recognized by numerous awards, including Maryland’s Top 100 Women. At Smithey Law Group LLC, which she founded in 2018, Joyce continues to champion employment rights, drawing on her rich background in law and business.

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