Pregnant Woman at Work

What are pregnancy discrimination laws? Discovering a pregnancy can be a moment of joy for both male and female future parents, but it can also be a moment of dread or uncertainty for one’s future career. It is no secret that a pregnancy, whether planned or unplanned, can disrupt a person’s career. In general, women see more career disruption due to pregnancy than men because women must bear the child through the pregnancy process and then recover from an often intensive medical procedure after birth. Additionally, once the child is born, both parents may need to take time off from work to care for the child.

While some employment disruption is inevitable due to a birth, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee either because the employee is pregnant or because the employee may become a primary caregiver for a child. This article seeks to describe the legal concept of pregnancy discrimination and explain the extent of pregnancy anti-discrimination laws in the United States.

Pregnancy Discrimination Defined

Pregnancy discrimination’s legal meaning is very similar to what any ordinary non-lawyer might expect it to be. Pregnancy discrimination occurs when an employer discriminates against a person because of pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical condition. In other words, an employer is not legally permitted to discriminate against a person because they are pregnant, having a baby, or have to take time off work for medical reasons due to a pregnancy.

Federal law makes pregnancy discrimination illegal. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, pregnancy discrimination is illegal, and employers can be sued for engaging in pregnancy discrimination.

Common Types of Illegal Pregnancy Discrimination

As pregnancy discrimination can be disruptive to both the pregnant employee and her employer, many employers may seek to engage in illegal pregnancy discrimination. One of the most common forms of pregnancy discrimination is either choosing to not hire or to defer the hiring of a woman who is pregnant on the assumption that a nearby pregnancy may disrupt a new employee’s orientation to employment. Playing these types of games during the hiring process is illegal. Another common employer tactic is firing a woman as soon as possible after the employer learns that she has become pregnant. This is done to try and avoid association of the firing with pregnancy.

It is also illegal for an employer to withhold pay raises or deny promotions until an employee returns from work after a pregnancy. This practice is unfortunately common and often places the careers of pregnant women on hold unnecessarily.

Pregnancy Discrimination and Abortion

An abortion is a pregnancy-related medical procedure, and so abortion is covered by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Employers cannot fire an employee because she received an abortion, and employers must provide disability and sick leave for abortion recipients. However, under federal law, an employer’s health care plan is not required to pay for purely elective abortions but must cover abortion procedures where the mother’s health is at risk.

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