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The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978: An Overview

The right to work is a necessity for many families in the United States, as many households require more than one income. Luckily, the Civil Rights Act grants working rights to women and people with disabilities as well as bans discrimination based on gender, pregnancy, race, religion and disability. The amendment to the Civil Rights Act that grants pregnant women the right to work is called the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and is cited in case law, employment law and is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission branch of the United States government.

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What is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is a United States federal statute that prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or medical conditions related to such. Under the Act, employers are not allowed to refuse to hire a qualified candidate based upon pregnancy status. Any complaint of discrimination made by a job applicant should be filed with the EEOC within 45 days and employees must file within 180 days of the discriminatory event along with supplemental material that backs up the claim. Under state law, this deadline may be extended to 300 days. Pregnancy is considered a temporary disability in the eyes of the law, so discrimination by employers is also a violation of ADA.

Related:New Employee Announcement

What you should know as a manager

As a manager, you should be aware of what the PDA covers in order to protect pregnant employees and job applicants. This Act is applicable to private employers with more than 14 employees and extends to decisions related to hiring, firing or promoting employees based upon their pregnancy status. Other things managers should be aware of in relation to these laws include:

  • Employers are prohibited from discriminating against women of ‘childbearing age’ due to the very possibility that they could become pregnant. This means that promotions, pay raises and advancement opportunities may not be withheld on the basis of gender.
  • Harassment of a pregnant employee is strictly forbidden. Whether the harassment is carried out by other employees, management or otherwise, it is prohibited by law. Such harassment can include making jokes about the size of a pregnant employee’s belly, touching the employee’s baby bump and hints that the employee is unable to do her job due to the limitations placed on her due to the pregnancy or suggestions that the employee takes maternity leave before she is ready.
  • Refusal to hire a qualified candidate due to their pregnancy or the possibility of pregnancy is illegal.
  • Decisions related to pay, promotions, training, benefits and other qualifiers may not take into account a pregnancy or the possibility of pregnancy.
  • Refusal to provide reasonable accommodations for breastfeeding mothers to pump milk is prohibited. New mothers must be allowed a private, clean place to pump as needed, and this place cannot be a bathroom. They must also be given enough time to pump.
  • Retaliation against an employee who files a complaint with the EEOC regarding the PDA is harassment, and it is illegal. Termination, demotion or any other punishment are considered retaliation and is punishable by law.
  • Holding back health benefits for pregnant women based on their marital status is illegal. Docking a pregnant employee’s pay is illegal.
  • Pregnancy-related impairments, such as carpal tunnel, gestational diabetes, sciatica, preeclampsia and postpartum depression are covered under the ADA, the violation of which is illegal.
  • All of the above applies to pregnancy or childbirth-related injuries or illness and covers all aspects of employment. Violation of these protections can result in costly lawsuits and individual criminal charges, depending on the offense.

Related:How to Grow Your Business

Pregnancy Discrimination Act FAQs

The following questions are often asked about the PDA:

1. Can an employer fire or reassign a pregnant employee?

No. Under the PDA, an employer does not have the right to fire or modify the work of a pregnant employee. Modifications to job duties should only be made at the request of the employee for them to continue their job. Employers must allow the employee to continue working as long as they are able, and may not refuse to make reasonable accommodations.

2. Can an employer fill the employee’s job when they take FMLA to give birth?

Employers are required by law to hold open the job of a pregnant employee for the same length of time as they would for any employee who is on leave due to a temporary disability or medical condition. The Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to hold a job open for the returning employee for 12 weeks. The PDA treats pregnancy the same as a temporary disability, so an employer’s failure to comply can result in legal troubles.

3. What actions does the EEOC take when a discrimination complaint is filed?

The EEOC sends a notice to the employer of the complaint and begins investigating the complaint. They may use the following procedures to reach a conclusion:

  • Mediation:The EEOC may refer a mediator with whom you can attempt to reach an agreement with your employee.
  • Federal lawsuit: If mediation fails, the EEOC can file a lawsuit in federal court on the behalf of the employee.
  • Dismissal with ‘right to sue’: The EEOC could simply decide to dismiss the issue and provide the employee with a ‘right to sue’ letter, which serves as notification of their right to sue on their own behalf.

4. What accommodations might a pregnant employee need?

Reasonable accommodations made for someone whose pregnancy impairs their regular job duties can include:

  • Modifying certain workplace policies, such as allowing a pregnant employee more frequent breaks or allowing her to keep a bottle of water at her workstation
  • Making allowances in the employee’s work schedule so that she may arrive later than normal due to morning sickness
  • Allowing a pregnant employee who has been placed on bed rest by her doctor to work remotely when possible
  • Providing reasonable equipment to accommodate a pregnant employee’s continued work, for example, a stool for sitting while performing job tasks
  • Temporarily reducing the employee’s workload to accommodate her current limitations
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