As a pregnant person or new parent, you are not only entering an exciting new phase of your life, but you are also temporarily granted special protections and rights under United States law. Most of these special rules have to do with your treatment in the workplace as you start your new family.
To protect your rights and advocate for fair treatment under federal labor law, you must first understand what those rights and laws are. Pregnancy discrimination is illegal under various state and federal civil rights laws, while your rights as a new parent are spelled out in a landmark piece of legislation called the Family and Medical Leave Act, commonly referred to as the FMLA.
A version of The Family and Medical Leave Act was first brought before Congress in 1984. It was finally passed in 1993, nearly a decade later.
Pregnancy Discrimination: What Is It and What Are My Rights?
Pregnancy discrimination is the act of treating a pregnant applicant or employee unfavorably. It can also cover discriminating against someone based on a medical condition or accommodation need stemming from a pregnancy or childbirth-related issue.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is a 1978 federal civil rights law that explicitly outlaws this sort of discrimination by an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This PDA covers essentially every possible facet of the employer-employee relationship that could be abused by an employer. Some of which include hiring practices, unequal pay, unlawful termination, withholding benefits or promotions, inappropriate changes to job duties, lack of training opportunities, and just about anything else that could be used as a basis for discriminatory behavior.
The United States Department of Labor offers some guidance for entities who wish to remain in Title VII compliance under the PDA, which is summarized by the following “do nots:”
- Assuming female employees will be unable to succeed due to being distracted or limited by childcare responsibilities
- Judging female employees who work part-time or request flexible schedules as uncommitted or unworthy of investment/promotion
- Assuming that female hires will prefer to spend time with their families rather than working
- Asking female applicants about childcare responsibilities or family planning intentions (especially when male applicants are not asked these same questions)
- Putting female employees with children in limiting, inconsequential, or low-paid positions due to an assumption that family duties will interfere with their success
- Treating women of color who are pregnant or have childcare responsibilities differently than other employees or applicants
Any of the above examples might be successfully prosecuted as a Title VII civil rights violation, depending on the full details of the case.
The PDA can be a particularly useful legal instrument to leverage after medically complicated births because it additionally states that any employer in the United States who offers leave for temporarily disabled employees must extend that benefit to workers whose temporary inability to work is a result of pregnancy or childbirth.
What Happens If I am Medically Unable to Return to Work After Childbirth?
If you had a medically complicated pregnancy or childbirth and are unable to return to your job due to a related injury or medical condition, contact our firm. The law states that your employer must treat you exactly the same as they would treat any other temporarily disabled employee. This treatment could include temporary changes to job duties or work schedule, providing reasonable accommodations, or payouts through a disability leave program.
Pregnancy- and childbirth-related injuries and conditions that persist for an extended period and interfere with your ability to work may also be covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a robust and far-reaching piece of civil rights legislation that may offer you additional legal protections.
In addition to unfair treatment through formal workplace practices, it is also illegal to harass someone based on pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical condition. For harassment to constitute illegal activity, it must be to such an extent that it creates a hostile work environment. Some people think that workplace harassment implies a relationship between a boss and their underling. However, illegal harassment can also come from co-workers, supervisors in other departments, customers and clients, or even, in certain cases, the victim’s subordinates. Depending on the nature of the harassment and its source, your best avenue for pursuing recompense may look different. It’s worth the time to contact a qualified labor law attorney for a review of your circumstances.
What Is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?
The Family and Medical Leave Act provides a separate set of benefits not specific to pregnancy or childbirth. The FMLA applies to new parents employed in the United States, including fathers, foster parents, and adoptive parents.
Under the FMLA, new parents may be eligible for up to:
- 12 weeks of paid leave if the employee has worked for that employer for at least 12 months before taking their first day of leave
- 12 weeks of unpaid leave otherwise
There are certain conditions to the FMLA. For example, the employer must be of a certain size (as measured by the number of employees) to be bound by the conditions of the FMLA.
What Should I Do If I’m Facing Pregnancy Discrimination or FMLA Violations?
If you believe you have been the victim of workplace pregnancy discrimination or that an employer has violated your rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, remain calm. Do not attempt to negotiate with, confront, or retaliate towards your employer or harasser in any way. Your first step should be to fully document every interaction with the perpetrating person or entity, using official paperwork and copies of communications wherever possible, then by journaling your own detailed notes about incidents when hard evidence does not exist. The next thing you will want to do is take all of this information to a high-powered labor law attorney like Esperanza Anderson of Pasadena, California for a consultation. A qualified employment attorney can review the details of your case to determine if you have a case for discrimination lawsuits or other violations.
Don’t let employers take the magic out of this special time in your life by bullying you, harassing you, or denying you your legally guaranteed rights. Esperanza Anderson is a Stanford- and Georgetown-trained attorney who has worked for Fortune 500 companies in the past and now puts that experience to work every day for the working families of Pasadena and the surrounding areas. She has recovered over $15,000,000 for mistreated employees — the next big payout could be yours. Contact our office today.