Learning More About Pregnancy Discrimination and Employee Rights

Learning More About Pregnancy Discrimination and Employee Rights

If you are pregnant and have concerns about being treated differently by your employer, it is important to understand that you are protected under federal law. Specifically, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in order to prohibit sex discrimination based on pregnancy. But protections for pregnant employees do not stop with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In the event that an employee’s pregnancy results in medical complications, she may be considered disabled and thus entitled to disability accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). What do you need to know in order to be informed about rights of pregnant employees?

Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978

An employer cannot discriminate against an employee because she is pregnant. As we mentioned above, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 clarifies that discrimination on the basis of sex—which was already prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964—also includes discrimination in the following instances:

  • On the basis of pregnancy;
  • On the basis of childbirth; and
  • On the basis of medical conditions related to pregnancy and/or childbirth.

The statute goes on to specify that pregnant employees, or those otherwise physically affected by pregnancy, “shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs, as other persons not so affected but similar in their inability to work.” The Act does not, however, require an employer to provide health insurance benefits for an abortion unless the “life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.”

The law applies to workplace discrimination in all aspects of employment, from hiring to promotion practices to termination. To be sure, a person cannot be denied employment or a promotion on the basis of pregnancy, and an employee cannot be terminated because she is pregnant. Yet the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is not the only federal law that provides certain workplace protections to women affected by pregnancy.

Family and Medical Leave Act and Pregnancy

A pregnant employee also may be entitled to unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Specifically, if the employee works for a covered employer and meets all of the FMLA requirements, then she can be entitled to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for the birth of a child, for the purpose of caring for the newborn child, and for a serious health condition related to childbirth.

The FMLA leave time applies not just to the mother of the child, but also to the father if the unpaid leave time is for the birth of the child and to care for the mother who has been incapacitated by the pregnancy and childbirth.

Pregnancy Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act

In addition to the protections discussed above, a pregnant employee, or a mother who has developed a disability as a result of the pregnancy, may be eligible for additional non-FMLA leave time or for other reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). Examples of pregnancy-related disabilities that may qualify include but are not limited to:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
  • Postpartum depression or postpartum psychosis;
  • Prolapsed uterus;
  • High blood pressure; and/or
  • Cervical insufficiency.

These are just a handful of examples, and numerous other pregnancy-related conditions may qualify for an accommodation under the ADA. The Illinois Human Rights Act also provides protection for pregnant employees, and an employment discrimination attorney can speak with you about how the law may apply to you.

Contact an Employment Discrimination Attorney in Oak Park

If you recently faced discrimination based on pregnancy, you may be able to file a claim. An experienced Oak Park employment discrimination attorney can help. Contact the Law Office of Mitchell A. Kline to learn more about our services.