The Rights of Pregnant Employees

A federal law passed in 1978 provides a female employee who becomes pregnant the right to the same employment-related benefits available for disabled workers. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 amends Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prevent discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

In 1993, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act went into effect for employers with 50 or more employees. This law allows an employee up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for a newborn, newly adopted child, or foster child. The employee may also use this leave to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent or because of his or her own serious illness or health condition.

To be eligible for the leave, the employee must be employed at a job for at least 12 months. Following the 12 weeks leave, the employee must be reinstated in the same or similar job.

Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, if an employer has a policy giving a disabled or injured employee leave to recover, that policy must include pregnancy. If an employer, however, does not have such a policy or is not covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the pregnant employee does not have job protection while she is recuperating after childbirth.

Availability of income and disability benefits to the pregnant employee depends on the employer's disability policy. If such benefits are available to the disabled employee, they are also available for the pregnant employee. The Family and Medical Leave Act requires that benefits other than wages continue during the leave period.

In addition, an employer generally cannot deduct vacation time, fringe benefits, pay increases, or seniority status from a pregnant employee on leave.

If a pregnant woman is on maternity leave, she is not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits. However, if she is laid off during this leave period because the employer has no work, her unemployment is considered nonvoluntary, and she is eligible for unemployment benefits.

Some employers adopt fetal protection policies with the intent of protecting a pregnant woman's unborn fetus and other females' reproductive systems from toxic work place hazards. These policies are generally considered discriminatory against all women.