Photo courtesy of Eyre June Bustamante
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was passed in the 1970s, but many women still feel anxious about telling their employer when they’re expecting. While pregnancy is usually an event to be celebrated, the stress of wondering if your job is at risk is, unfortunately, not uncommon. Pregnancy discrimination is still a reality for many.
Luckily, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act guarantees you several rights—and by knowing what you’re entitled to, you can be prepared for any potential workplace discrimination issues.
Here’s what you need to know about the law, what protections it affords pregnant people, and what you should do if you think your workplace is in violation of your rights.
The history of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act
Passed in 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It was considered a necessary addendum after the Supreme Court received two major cases revolving around pregnancy discrimination: Geduldig v. Aiello and General Electric v. Gilbert.
Under the act, employers are required to treat pregnant employees in the same way that they do non-pregnant people. This means you cannot be fired for being pregnant or prevented from returning to work after giving birth. The exact text of the bill states:
“[W]omen affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes, including receipt of benefits under fringe benefit programs.”
Knowing your rights under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act
There is, of course, more to the act than simply that sentence—although much of it is legal jargon. Instead of decoding legalese, here’s a digestible breakdown of how the benefits of the PDA protect women.
When applying and interviewing for jobs, employers are prohibited from using pregnancy as a reason to not hire a potential employee.
Pregnant employees do not need to complete any special procedures or tests to evaluate their job performance unless it’s also required for all employees.
Your benefits and PTO will not be affected. You also do not forfeit promotion eligibility. If you’re pregnant and are passed up for a promotion and think it may be because of your pregnancy, then your employer could be in violation of the act.
Under employer-provided health care, pregnancy conditions must be treated the same as other health conditions. Additionally, pregnant employees cannot be made to pay a larger deductible.
Any pregnancy-related conditions that prevent an employee from working must be treated in the same way that other short-term disabilities are treated.
During pregnancy leave, an employer must hold your job for as long they would an employee on leave due to other medical issues.
If your company falls under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) (not all do), you’re legally entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave during any 12-month period. During this time, you still receive health care benefits and your job is protected.
What to do if your employer violates your PDA rights
Unfortunately, violation of PDA rights isn’t unheard of. Some PDA violations, like giving up your job during maternity leave or moving you to a lower position because of your pregnancy, are easier to identify. But sometimes, pregnancy-based discrimination can be harder to nail down—you might not know what kinds of professional opportunities you’re missing out on behind closed doors.
If you think there’s any chance that your current or potential employer discriminated against you based on your pregnancy status, then you should know that you do have options. Additionally, if you’re afraid of repercussions because of reporting your employer, you should also know: it’s illegal for you to be fired for reporting your concerns (this is called retaliation), or for your employer to create a hostile work environment because you filed a claim.
The primary avenue for dealing with pregnancy discrimination is filing a charge through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days of the event. In order to do so, you’ll also need the following information:
Basic information on yourself, including name, address, and number.
Details on your employer, including their name and the number of employees, as well as the address and phone number.
Details on the discriminatory event (date, time, what was said or done, who was present, etc.) and any documents or records of communication that you have.
Read more: 7 Ways to Relieve Stress During Pregnancy
Once you’ve filed a claim, the EEOC will determine whether or not your case is legitimate. They’ll also send a copy of the case to your employer. From there, there are several courses of action that both you and the EEOC may take. First they may attempt a mediation between you and your employer. If that doesn’t work out, then they may investigate your claims and file a lawsuit in federal court. Sometimes, the EEOC doesn't carry the case into court themselves, but will instead issue you with a “right to sue” letter, which essentially states that you have 90 days to file a lawsuit against your employer.
If the EEOC is able to settle your case for you, you’ll likely get some form of compensation, whether reinstatement, back or front pay, or payment for legal fees.
Understandably, filing a claim with the EEOC can be intimidating. If you think you might be undergoing workplace discrimination due to pregnancy, but aren’t ready to file a claim, be sure to take these steps:
Record any and all communication. Write down the time, place, people, and any other pertinent information. When applicable, take photos or save emails or text messages.
Touch base with your HR department. They can give you more insight as to what your rights are. If you aren’t comfortable with that, try consulting your employee handbook.
Keep your job performance up, and maintain records that show this.
Find avenues for support. This could be friends, family, or even an EEOC counselor. If you’re interested in the latter, you should know that you can get in touch with an EEOC counselor to discuss your questions, rights, and whether or not you should file a claim.