If you were fired because of your pregnancy or plans to get pregnant, you may have a wrongful termination case against your employer. Most employers may not discriminate against employees for being pregnant, deny them leave they are entitled to under federal or state law, or refuse to provide reasonable accommodations when required to do so. This article will explain your rights as a pregnant employee and will help you determine whether you should consult a lawyer about pursuing a case against your employer.
Pregnant employees are entitled to various protections under federal and state law, including the right not to be discriminated against, and in certain circumstances, the right to reasonable accommodation and time off from work. While federal law sets the minimum requirements that employers in all states must follow, states are free to create laws that are more protective of pregnant employees. Many states have done so, with some laws applying to a wider set of employers or providing greater accommodation or leave rights.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is a federal law that prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against or harassing employees due to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. These employers cannot refuse to hire pregnant employees, treat them differently than other employees during their employment, or fire them for being pregnant. They are also prohibited from acting on stereotypes about pregnant women. For example, your employer cannot assume that you’re unable to do certain tasks because you’re pregnant or that you won’t want to work after you have your baby. These protections also extend to employees who are planning or trying to get pregnant and who have been pregnant in the past.
The majority of states have passed their own laws that prohibit pregnancy discrimination in employment. Many of these laws apply to employers that are not covered by the PDA, such as those with fewer than 15 employees.
Unlike other federal laws, such as those protecting employees with disabilities, the PDA does not impose an affirmative duty on employers to accommodate pregnant employees. Instead, employers must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees only such accommodations are provided to other employees who are temporarily limited in their ability to work. For example, if your employer offers light-duty work to employees with broken bones or other temporary ailments, it may also be required to offer light duty to pregnant employees with medical restrictions. On the other hand, if your employer doesn’t offer accommodations to any employees, it won’t be required to give you a flexible schedule or light-duty work under the PDA.
This is where state law may fill in the gaps, however. Some states, including California and Illinois, have passed laws that require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to all pregnant employees with medical restrictions. If you work in one of these states, your employer may be required to give you time off for medical appointments, changes to your schedule, or light-duty work. For more information on what your state requires, see State Laws on Wrongful Termination: Discrimination and Harassment.
Employees who are disabled by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions may qualify for greater protections under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA requires employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities. Employees who develop pregnancy-related disabilities, such as gestational diabetes, are entitled to the protections of this law. However, employees with normal pregnancies are not considered to be disabled under the ADA.
Pregnant employees who work for larger employers are entitled to time off for pregnancy, childbirth, and bonding with a new child under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for the following purposes:
Employees must meet certain eligibility requirements to qualify for FMLA leave, including working for a covered employer for at least 12 months and working at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months. In most cases, pregnant employees who take FMLA leave must be returned to their previous positions once their leave is over. For more information on eligibility and reinstatement, see Taking Family and Medical Leave.
Several states have passed laws that are similar to the FMLA, some of which apply to smaller employers or have more relaxed eligibility requirements for employees. As a result, you may be entitled to pregnancy or bonding leave, even if you don’t qualify for FMLA leave. For more information on your state’s leave laws, see State Family and Medical Leave Laws.
If you believe you were fired for being pregnant or exercising your rights as a pregnant employee, you should consult with an employment attorney. An attorney can help you identify the maximum protections you’re entitled to under federal and state law and what you can expect to recover. Whether you want to get your job back, negotiate an informal settlement, or take your employer to court, a lawyer can help you figure out your options and the best route to take. For more information on finding and hiring a lawyer, see Discrimination & Harassment: Pursuing Your Wrongful Termination Case.