Unlawful Discrimination Based On Pregnancy Still Exists
Complaints up sharply over last decade
Most working mothers find it challenging to find a good work/life balance. For working expecting mothers, it can sometimes be difficult even keeping a job even though federal law is on their sides.
Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is still common despite the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which requires most U.S.employers to treat pregnant women the same way they would treat other employees. The legislation protects pregnant women (and, in many cases, expecting fathers) in several ways, including:
- Hiring: An employer may not refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant
- Maternity Leave: Employers must hold jobs open for pregnancy-related absences for the same amount of time jobs are held open for sick or temporarily disabled employees.
Health Insurance: Any health insurance provided by an employer must cover pregnancy-related expenses just as it covers other medical costs.
But despite the passage of this legislation more than 30 years ago and the fact that women make up nearly half the U.S. workforce, many pregnant women are still are still being treated unfairly and illegally at work.
“It’s a huge problem and, unfortunately, it’s not going away anytime soon,” explains attorney Martin Sweet of legal information website THELAW.TV.
According to the National Women’s Law Center, claims filed by pregnant women with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have risen 47 percent in the last ten years. One out of every five of those complaints involves pregnancy discrimination.
These complaints keep coming in despite the fact that the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act is not the only federal law that protects pregnant women in the workplace. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 guarantees certain workers three months of job-protected unpaid leave to care for a new baby, while the Affordable Care Act of 2010 requires certain employers to provide reasonable break time and private spaces for nursing mothers to express breast milk for one year after the birth of a child.
“Some employers conduct their business as if these laws simply do not exist,” says Houston, Texas employment law attorney Kevin Murray of Kevin Murray, LLC. “That’s a huge problem considering women have become the breadwinners in many American homes.”
Last month, the EEOC held a hearing on pregnancy discrimination in Washington, DC. After hearing experts tell stories about this kind of discrimination in the workplace, the commission called for stronger legal enforcement, better guidance for employers and more research on the issue.
If you feel you have been the victim of pregnancy discrimination, you should contact an attorney who specializes in employment law.