Navigating the workplace during your pregnancy can be a challenge. Though women have advanced in the workplace, pregnancy discrimination is still alive and well. Knowing your rights and how to exercise them is half the battle, but you don’t have to go it alone.
There are several resources available to you to help guide you.
Below are 4 things you need to know when you are pregnant at work, including several helpful links to send you in the right direction.
1. Know your rights.
If you’re pregnant at work, you should know that you have rights.
State and federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers from discriminating against women on the basis of their pregnancy. General guidance regarding federal anti-discrimination protections can be found on the EEOC’s website under Pregnancy Discrimination.
These protections extend to every part of the employment process including hiring and firing.
In other words, your employer cannot fire you because you decided to have a baby. In fact, they cannot make any employment decision on the basis of your pregnancy.
Of course, without appropriate legal guidance, it can be difficult to know if what you are experiencing could be classified as pregnancy discrimination, but it is important to know your rights and know what patterns to look out for.
2. Know when and how to ask for an accommodation.
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, if a woman becomes temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, her employer must treat her in the same manner it would any other temporarily disabled employee.
In other words, if an employer has a policy that offers light duty to workers who fall ill or injure themselves on or off the job, the employer must also offer a policy that provides for light duty to pregnant workers seeking an accommodation. This also extends to policies offering alternative assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave.
It is not a matter of seeking “special treatment;” it is simply affording pregnant women equal protection under the law.
Knowing when to request an accommodation can be tricky. You may wonder if you need an accommodation, or you may worry that your employer will somehow penalize you for seeking one.
Also, because it’s important to specify the type of work you can perform when requesting an accommodation, Pregnant at Work provides a list of accommodation ideas to help get you started.
The site also gives great advice on workplace lactation rights.
3. Know to put everything in writing.
When discussing matters concerning your pregnancy, it’s important to put everything in writing.
Even if you disclose your pregnancy verbally or initiate an in-person conversation about a reasonable accommodation, it’s important that you follow up all communications with an email. Not only will this ensure there is a record you can reference later if needed, it will ensure everyone is on the same page.
It is much easier to identify misunderstandings or miscommunications when you see them in writing.
Also, although no one likes to think about it, if the worst does happen, and you have reason to believe your employer discriminated against you on the basis of your pregnancy, it will be important to show that your employer knew you were pregnant.
You are your own best advocate in the workplace, so when in doubt: document.
It’s good to live by the following motto: if it wasn’t documented, then it didn’t happen.
4. Know when to ask for help.
Finally, know when to reach out and get legal help.
Although online resources are helpful, it can be difficult to appropriately “diagnose” your situation.
Like all employment discrimination matters, pregnancy discrimination cases are fact-specific.
State protections also vary, so if your employer does not fall under the purview of the federal protections offered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, it will be important to know what state protections are available.
For example, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) applies only to employers who employ 15 or more employees. In New York, however, the New York State Human Rights Law banning pregnancy discrimination applies to employers with at least 4 employees.
So, if you are in New York, and your employer employs just 5 employees, you may not be covered by the PDA, but you can still avail yourself of state protections.
It will also be important to find out if you have protection under any other applicable laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, or your state’s disability discrimination law.
It’s important to find an attorney in your state who practices in the area of employment discrimination.
A good way to find an attorney knowledgeable in this area is to contact your local county bar association.
If hiring a private attorney is not an option, the Center for WorkLife Law offers a free hotline, which can be reached by email and phone: [email protected] or (415) 703-8276.
A Better Balance also offers a free legal hotline to speak with an attorney about your situation.
In any event, you are not alone.
Future Post Alert: You may have noticed this post does not address matters related to maternity leave. I am planning a separate post on parental leave in the near future. Sign up to receive new post updates, or follow me on social media to be the first to know!
Disclaimer: This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. Always contact an attorney directly if you are in need of legal advice.