Pregnancy Discrimination and Maternity Leave

Updated: Jul 23

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is a federal statute that forbids discrimination based on pregnancy concerning any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, and any other terms of employment for companies with 15 or more employees.

A potential employer cannot ask you if you are pregnant or plan to have children at the interview or any time after your employment begins. You cannot be fired for taking sick days while you’re pregnant, and in many places, local laws offer even more protection. For example, New York City requires employers to “provide reasonable accommodations” for pregnancy and childbirth such as minor changes to work schedules, dress codes, and additional break time, especially for nursing mothers who need to pump breast milk every few hours during the workday.

The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 requires employers to offer up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave per year for parental and medical-related reasons, but only for companies with over fifty employees and only if you have worked with the company for at least 1,250 hours over twelve months. Again, many states and cities offer even more protection, and the trend is in the direction of more robust offerings for parents. New York state now requires employers to offer ten weeks paid family leave, and in many places, the rules are starting to provide the same benefits for fathers and same-sex couples as they do for mothers. A quick google search should tell you the laws in your state and locality.

Unfortunately, despite all the laws, there are still plenty of discriminatory or just ignorant employers out there who don’t follow the rules. And, even if you sue for discrimination and win, you can bet there will be repercussions, especially if you want to stay with the company you are accusing or if you work in a small professional field. Word travels and even confidential settlements have a way of marking you as a troublemaker. This is not fair or right, but it’s just the world we live in, so you must think carefully about the pros and cons before you take action against an employer who discriminates against you.

In the meantime, while you consider your options, try to gather as much evidence as you can of the discrimination. Write down every instance and detail in a journal and communicate in writing with your employer whenever possible, so there is a record of evidence other than just your word against theirs. You usually don’t need to have direct, “smoking gun” evidence to win. Circumstantial evidence can be enough. For instance, if you have stellar reviews for five years, then you get a terrible review for no reason right after announcing your pregnancy, that would be a powerful piece of evidence (from The Spiggle Law Firm, www.spigglelaw.com ).

If you find yourself discriminated against due to pregnancy or maternity leave and want to take action, you will need to find a good local lawyer to walk you through it. You cannot wait very long because, in many cases, the statute of limitations is only 180 days. The laws vary widely from place to place, and there are exceptions you may not be aware of. For example, very small businesses may not have the same requirements as larger ones. Don’t try to solve this problem on your own.


-Jessica & Jim



Disclaimer

Jim and Jessica Braz are not lawyers. While they have real-life experience in the issues discussed here, they do not give legal advice on this website. Furthermore, child custody laws, child support calculations, and family law, in general, vary from state to state. Be sure to consult an attorney in the appropriate state for your custody litigation. ​


Jim and Jessica Braz are not doctors. While they have real-life experience in the issues discussed here, they do not give medical advice on this website. Be sure to consult your doctor on your specific medical situation. ​


Jim and Jessica Braz are not licensed therapists, mediators, or counselors. While they have real-life experience in the issues discussed here, you should consult licensed professionals as needed.


The advice given on this website does not hold Jim and Jessica Braz legally liable for any adverse outcomes you may have from following their advice.

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