Within the past month, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settled one pregnancy discrimination suit and filed four more. These actions occurred soon after the Federal Government announced a plan to punish employers who are convicted of illegal discrimination against women who are having a baby. One of the suits involved a Texas restaurant chain which allegedly fired multiple female employees who announced their pregnancy. The EEOC charged in this case that the company’s employee handbook actually instructed managers to fire any employee who became pregnant by the third month of her pregnancy. Another suit was from a restaurant in Florida who fired two waitresses who announced their pregnancies. The manager claimed the pregnancies turned the waitresses into company liabilities.
Unfortunately, women being fired for being pregnant are far from uncommon with many employers penalizing women for having children. Government intervention in the case of employment discrimination against pregnant women is important because in many cases the employer who terminated the worker has access to significant amounts of information the worker may not. In fact, in some cases the woman who has been let go due to pregnancy may not even be aware she is being illegally discriminated against. Lower wage workers in particular may be afraid to assert their rights during acts of illegal discrimination and tend to be more vulnerable to retaliatory acts by their bosses. The recent acts of the EEOC have put employers on notice that it is not okay to fire pregnant workers.
In fact, the EEOC is letting employers know that pregnant women must be offered the same accommodations as others with temporary injuries. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or any medical conditions which are related to pregnancy or childbirth. Pregnant women are afforded protections related to hiring, pregnancy and maternity leave, health insurance and fringe benefits. A pregnant woman (who is qualified for the position) cannot be refused a job due to her pregnancy or because clients, customers or co-workers may have certain prejudices regarding her condition. Employers are prohibited form singling out conditions specifically related to pregnancy in their determination of an employee’s ability to work.
If a pregnant employee cannot perform specific job duties because of the pregnancy, her employer must treat her exactly as any employee with a temporary disability would be treated. Tasks must be modified, alternative assignments offered or disability leave offered. So long as the employee can successfully perform her job, she must be allowed to continue to work. A pregnant worker’s job position must be locked in for the same period of time as it would be in the case of an employee on a sick or disability leave. Employer-offered health insurance must include coverage for any condition related to pregnancy and the same level of health benefits must be offered for male employee spouses as for female employee spouses. It is unlawful to limit pregnancy benefits to those who are married and if the employer routinely provides benefits to those workers who are on leave, pregnancy-related conditions must be similarly covered. If you believe you were discriminated against based solely on your pregnancy, you must consult a knowledgeable employment attorney at the earliest possible time.
As a future mother, you should learn about your rights to adequately protect yourself from being discriminated in your workplace.