Women's Healthcare Topics

Your Workplace Rights are Protected by Three Laws

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Your Workplace Rights

Most pregnant women work outside of the home and work right up to the time they go into labor. After delivery, most women return to work after a few weeks to a few months later. During pregnancy, you can work as long as you want if you and the baby are healthy and your work place has no special hazards. If you think the workplace poses a risk and/or the job is physically difficult during pregnancy, make sure you discuss your situation with your physician.

Most pregnancies are not disabling and you are able to continue working throughout your pregnancy. When problems do arise, you and your doctor make the decision if you will be able to continue working, not your boss.

What factors can influence my ability to work?

Learn about your rights and the laws that protect you at work when you are pregnant.

Early in pregnancy, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, frequent trips to the bathroom, cramping, breast tenderness, emotional changes and lightheadedness may require you to take frequent breaks or sometimes a short-term leave of absence from work (short-term or partial disability). Later in pregnancy, these complaints give way to heartburn, shortness of breath, constipation, back pain, varicose veins, hemorrhoids and physical straining caused by increased body weight.

Long-term disability is given when pregnancy is complicated by problems that prevent you from returning to work. When your doctor feels you should take either a short term or long term leave from work, he will file disability papers for you. In contrast, if your employer feels you cannot work, but you want to continue working, your doctor can write a note stating you are not disabled and can work.

All pregnant women, including those who work, are offered certain legal protections. While these laws don't guarantee paid maternity leave or insurance reimbursement during pregnancy, they do provide discrimination protection and, in many cases, unpaid leave during pregnancy.

Your Workplace Rights

Your workplace rights are protected by three federal laws: Family and Medical Leave Act, Occupational Safety and Health Act, and Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

The Family and Medical Leave Act protect your rights if you have to leave work on a pregnancy related disability or after giving birth. It allows you to have up to 12 weeks unpaid leave from work for giving birth or family care for your newborn.

The FMLA applies only to employers that have at least 50 employees. FMLA protects your job and allows you to return to work without concern after your baby is born. If you need more information contact the U.S. Department of Labor at 1.800.827.5335.

If you work in a smaller workplace (less than 50 employees), the FMLA will not require your employer to hold your job, you will have to make special arrangements with your employer for maternity leave.

What is The Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

The Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires all employers with 15 workers to treat pregnancy as any other medical condition. If workers with non-pregnancy related disabilities receive pay and leave so can you. This act makes it illegal to treat you differently than other employees with disabilities.

The law also prohibits your employer from firing, or refusing promotion just because you are pregnant. Your employer must offer you the same disability benefits, leave time and pay, as other workers disabled by illness or injury.

If you need further assistance, contact the equal Employment Opportunity Commission at 1.800.669.4000 or www.eeoc.gov.

What is the Occupational Safety and Health Act?

The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires your employer to create a workplace free from hazards that could cause harm both to you and other employees. If harmful agents are in the work place, your employer is required to give you the names and facts about them. You should then bring the list to your physician and discuss the possible hazards.

If you feel unsafe and need assistance, ask your doctor to contact the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). NIOSH will be able to give you more information and they have the right to inspect the workplace if there is suspicion that it is not a safe work environment. If you need more information, contact NIOSH at 1.800.356.4674.

Do I qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)?

Unfortunately, only 4 out of 10 women get paid leave after delivery of their babies. Others have to use vacation or sick time to continue receiving a paycheck. The Family and Medical Leave Act only protects your job position when you want to return from maternity leave and does not guarantee income. To qualify for protection, you must meet the following conditions:

  • 1. Your workplace has to have at least 50 employees.

  • 2. You have to have worked there for at least the last 12 months.

  • 3. You will have had to acquire 1250 hours in the last 12 months.

Summary and recommendation for maternity leave and a safe workplace

  • Speak to your employer about the possible risk of toxic substances in the workplace.

  • Make sure you discuss the possible hazards in the workplace with your physician.

  • Early in your pregnancy, discuss interim absences for your doctor visits and leave after the baby is born. The earlier you discuss your absences, the less likely of misunderstandings and disappointment.

  • Learn your rights.


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