Pregnancy and Family Responsibility Discrimination

Our pregnancy discrimination lawyers protect the rights of employees nationwide. If you feel you’ve been the victim of discrimination in the workplace contact our offices today to discuss a potential claim.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Pregnancy discrimination is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ensures employers do not discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. Pregnancy discrimination applies to all phases of employment, including the hiring process. An employer cannot choose not to hire an applicant on the basis of a pregnancy-related condition.

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) also covers pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Under the FMLA, any employee who has worked for the company for at least a year has the right to take 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child. Men and women are allowed to take this 12-week leave, as long as the company employs at least 50 individuals. Any employee who exercises this right to a 12-week leave is guaranteed the same job, pay and benefits when he or she returns. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) requires employers to treat pregnant employees the same as non-pregnant employees in the workplace. The PDA was enacted to clarify that pregnancy discrimination constitutes a form of sex discrimination prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Aside from federal laws, state laws may also prohibit discrimination on the basis of pregnancy or related medical conditions.

During an Interview

During a job interview, an employer cannot ask if you are pregnant or are planning to become pregnant. Further, an employer cannot refuse to hire you based on a pregnancy-related condition. There is no express requirement to notify an employer after becoming pregnant. However, if you plan on taking leave or anticipate absences for doctors’ visits, you should tell your employer. The decision to take leave is left solely to the employee’s discretion, and an employer cannot compel an employee to take leave. Moreover, an employer cannot set a time period for an employee returning to work after childbirth. For example, an employer may not require an employee to stay home for at least six weeks after childbirth before returning to work.

Pregnancy Leave

If you decide to take pregnancy leave, your job must be held open for the same period of time as the jobs of employees on sick or disability leave. This means you cannot be demoted or replaced while you are out on leave. Paid leave is not required under Title VII or the FMLA. If an employer offers disability pay to certain employees, he or she must offer paid leave for pregnancy-related conditions. Some company policies allow an employee to use sick leave or vacation leave during a pregnancy leave in order to maintain a salary while on leave. Pregnancy leave is not limited to mothers. Under the FMLA, fathers may take pregnancy-related leave before or after childbirth to care for the mother. The FMLA similarly does not require employers to pay fathers during pregnancy leaves.

Family Responsibility Discrimination

Family responsibility discrimination refers to workplace discrimination based on an employee’s responsibility to care for family members. This type of responsibility can be real or perceived, and can include caring for a spouse, child, disabled child, or aging parent. Unlike pregnancy discrimination, there is no current federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of family responsibilities. However, employees may be implicitly protected under other federal laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or the Equal Pay Act, from this form of discrimination. Because there is no express federal law prohibiting family responsibility discrimination, there is a lot of uncertainty regarding what an employer may or may not do. For example, many companies extend health insurance benefits to an employee’s spouse and children. While unmarried employees technically receive fewer benefits under this framework, they are not being discriminated against. In most states, marital or familial status discrimination is not illegal.

While it is more difficult to prove, an employee may nonetheless file a claim for family responsibility discrimination and recover remedies. Remedies available vary depending upon the state governing the form of discrimination. The time for filing a complaint also differs depending on the applicable state or federal law. Therefore, it is important to check all deadlines to ensure your discrimination claim is not later barred.