Women's Healthcare Topics

Laws That Protect You in Pregnancy from Discrimination

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

Your Protection if Working during Pregnancy

Pregnant women including those that work are provided certain protections under the law during pregnancy. While these laws don't guarantee paid maternity leave or insurance reimbursement during pregnancy, they will provide discrimination protection and in many cases allow women unpaid leave during pregnancy. The two primary laws that protect women during pregnancy include the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family Medical Leave Act or FMLA.

Pregnancy Discrimination Act

There are laws that protect you from discrimination while pregnant.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act established in 1978 requires employers with 15 or more employees to treat pregnant workers as equally as they would employees with other medical disabilities. The act prevents employers from discriminating against pregnant women on the basis of their pregnancy or childbirth, or any disability that may result from childbirth or pregnancy. It also guarantees women the right to equal treatment of disabilities, of which pregnancy qualifies. Birth or medical related injuries or conditions are also covered under the act.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prevents an employer from firing a pregnant women based on her pregnancy or pregnancy related illness. The act also prevents the employer from forcing a mandatory pregnancy or maternity leave on any employee.

Pregnant women are afforded the same rights as anyone else with a medical related disability. This means your employer must grant you the right to modified work tasks or disability leave with or without pay based on your organization's policies.

Pregnant women are afforded the opportunity to work as long as they are able to while on the job, and their jobs are protected during maternity leave under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Pregnant women may also accrue seniority or vacation while pregnant and remain eligible for other formal perks such as bonuses or pay increases. These stipulations are valid only if your employer provides security and benefits to all employees. It does not require that the employer provide these benefits only to pregnant women.

Family and Medical Leave Act

The Family and Medical Leave Act, created in 1993, allows a pregnant mother or her partner to take up to 12 weeks of leave unpaid in the 12-month period following the birth of their baby. Pregnant mothers may take intermittent leave or leave for 12 weeks at a time. The law states that the employer must reinstate you to the same job or an equivalent job upon your return to work.

The FMLA does not apply equally to all women however. Only companies with 50 or more employees need follow the law, and typically an employee must have worked a minimum of one full year or 1250 hours for the company in order to qualify for benefits under the family leave act. Thus if you deliver shortly after your company hires you, you will not qualify for this guaranteed leave. Fortunately many employers offer some form of modified pregnancy leave for women who do not fully qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Other Pregnancy Protection Laws

Laws also vary from state to state with regard to maternity leave and pregnancy rights. You should check in with your state or human resources department if you have questions regarding your rights during pregnancy. The U.S. Department of Labor also provides information regarding pregnancy rights and family leave. Remember, you may or may not be offered disability pay as a result of your pregnancy. Many employers offer this benefit, which provides up to 60% of pay for a designated period after delivery. If your employer does not offer this benefit, you'll want to start assessing your finances ahead of time and determine whether you need to save money to prepare for delivery.

Your best bet is to meet with your company human resources professional or manager to discuss your rights and your leave several months before delivery. This will help you prepare for any steps you need to take and ensure you have the paperwork you need to take advantage of any leaves guaranteed by your company.


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