Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace

Today in the U.S., a record number of women work outside the home. Many of these women strive to not only enjoy professional success, but also the joy of being a mother. While laws exist to protect the rights of pregnant women in the workplace, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the number of pregnancy discrimination cases has steadily increased during the last decade.

Signed into law in 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act helps protect pregnant employees from suffering acts of workplace discrimination. Under the PDA, actions taken by an employer against a pregnant employee including firing, demotion, pay decrease, layoff and the discontinuance of employee-sponsored health benefits are considered discriminatory and illegal.

Some pregnant women experience complications or encounter difficulty performing certain job-related duties during their pregnancy. Many of the physical conditions associated with pregnancy are classified as temporary disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Much like any employee with health or physical limitations, employers must work to accommodate pregnant employees. Accommodations may include changes in job responsibilities and paid or unpaid leave. 

In addition to laws that protect pregnant employees, there are also those that protect an employee subsequent to the birth of a child. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, qualifying employers must allow a new mother, who has worked at the company for 12 or more months, to take up to 12 weeks of paid or unpaid leave. Additionally, employers must provide a suitable place for nursing mothers when they return to work. 

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Pregnancy Discrimination," 2014

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