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Federal Employment Protection During Pregnancy

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, provides federal protections for women’s choices related to pregnancy, if she works for an employer with more than 15 employees. The protections are against discrimination and harassment, and there are further protections regarding exposure to hazardous working environments during pregnancy.

The PDA, or Pregnancy Discrimination Act, provides for protection against negative employment actions related to pregnancy, intent to get pregnant, and abortion. This means hiring decisions, firing, promotion or demotion decisions or other job actions cannot be made based on these reproductive health issues.

Workplaces must make sure the environment is safe for pregnant women, and these safety precautions include hazardous chemicals, noise, radiation, and heat/cold. However, an employer cannot remove a pregnant women from employment for these safety reasons, but must, if able, provide a different job or a different work environment. The worker cannot be placed on leave for the extent of the pregnancy for these reasons. An employer is expected to make reasonable accommodations.

If the pregnancy is causing difficulty doing the job, employers can offer reasonable workplace accommodations such as sitting rather than standing, breaks, altered work schedules, and work from home options. These changes in the work environment much be accommodations, rather than demotions, and be time-limited. In all instances, the change must not place an undue burden on an employer.

If an employee cannot work during the pregnancy, and paid leave is available, then that leave is allowed, and further unpaid leave can be a workplace accommodation. How the employer uses workplace accommodations for other employees needing assistance or altered work environments, such as those protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, can be used to also offer similar to pregnant employees.

If a pregnant woman is experiencing harassment in the work environment, the employer has a responsibility to stop the harassment. Harassment alone cannot be used as a need for an accommodation in the workplace.

If an employee feels that she has been discriminated against due to pregnancy or reproductive health issues, she can speak first to HR or directly to the EEOC. Employers are prohibited from retaliation against employees for filing an EEOC complaint. The burden of proof rests with the person filing the complaint.

For more information about employment law, please contact us.