With women comprising nearly 50% of the US labor force, it is common to see women working throughout their pregnancy and returning to the job much earlier than in previous decades. Unfortunately, pregnant employees continue to face discrimination, despite a nearly 40-year-old federal law, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), which amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
For employers, the consequences of a pregnancy discrimination suit can be costly, time-consuming and damaging to their brand and reputation as these recent examples show.
A chain of fitness centers will pay $86,000 and furnish other relief to settle a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit filed by the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The agency charged that after two job interviews the company told an applicant who was applying for a job at its Rockville, Maryland location to come in to complete paperwork so she could be added to the schedule.
When she emailed the gym with her availability and informed them that she was 35 weeks pregnant, the gym failed to schedule her for work and stopped communicating with her. Two weeks later, a manager told her that her position was placed on hold and two other people had been hired. The manager encouraged her to apply for a position at another facility opening later that year.
Rescinding a job offer after learning a qualified applicant is pregnant – even if you tell her to reapply after her baby is born – is still illegal pregnancy discrimination, the EEOC said.
The PDA, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, protects job applicants as well as employees against discrimination in hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training and fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance.
In addition to the $86,000 fine, the fitness company will revise its anti-discrimination policy to state that it does not discriminate on the basis of pregnancy and update all current and newly hired employees. The company will also conduct annual anti-discrimination training to all managers and hiring personnel at its Maryland facilities.
In another case of pregnancy discrimination, a manager of a furniture company told a new female employee that she could not work at the facility because she should not be exposed to chemicals used to repair furniture. In announcing the $55,000 settlement, the EEOC noted that pregnant women have the right to decide for themselves whether to work while pregnant and what risks they are willing to assume.
In addition to the financial settlement, the company must implement a policy that prohibits pregnancy discrimination and conduct annual training for employees, supervisors and managers. The company must also post a notice in its facilities about the lawsuit and employees’ rights under anti-discrimination laws.
In 2016, a jury awarded a former employee of a fast-food restaurant $550,000 in damages on her claim she was fired after becoming pregnant. The employee claims that after telling her manager she was pregnant, the supervisor required her to announce her bathroom breaks to all her coworkers and ignored her requests to leave early for doctor’s appointments – treatment that didn’t apply to nonpregnant workers. When she went to her doctor’s appointment anyway, she was fired.
Women should not have to choose between having a child or having a job. Rescinding a job offer to a qualified candidate after learning she is pregnant or penalizing a current employee after she becomes pregnant is illegal under the PDA and many state laws. Organizations can reduce the risk of non-compliant behavior by following these Do’s and Don’ts:
- Treat pregnant employees and new mothers fairly, as you would any other employee
- Treat employees who are temporarily unable to work because of a pregnancy-related disability the same as any employee with a temporary disability
- Explain conduct that constitutes pregnancy discrimination and harassment in your written policies and procedures
- Enforce your anti-discrimination policies and investigate complaints promptly
- Conduct regular training to ensure employees and managers understand their rights and responsibilities for dealing with pregnancy issues
- Stay current on federal laws and your state’s laws against pregnancy discrimination
- Deny a job or promotion to an employee or applicant because of pregnancy, childbirth or a pregnancy-related condition, such as breastfeeding
- Fire or demote an employee because she is pregnant or may become pregnant
- Ask job applicants if they have any children or plan to have any
- Deny time off or reasonable accommodation requests by employees with pregnancy-related conditions
- Force a pregnant employee to take leave if she can perform her job