Pregnant Discrimination Still an Issue for Women in the Workplace
One would think, after many companies have decided to include designated parking spots for expecting mothers and lactation rooms, and have begun to offer generous parental leave policies, being pregnant in the workplace is not an issue. Yet, that’s simply not the case. Pregnancy discrimination is still rampant in the American workplace, and some of the nation’s largest companies are among those responsible for systematically passing mothers-to-be up for promotions and pay increases or discriminating against them should they choose to return after giving birth. If they complain, they’re canned.
In physically demanding positions, pregnancy is often no excuse for taking additional breaks, carrying a water bottle or snack while on duty, or avoiding heavy lifting. And, the wages of mothers are staggering. Studies have found, in fact, that each child cuts four percent off of a woman’s hourly wages, yet the earnings of men increase by six percent after they become fathers.
“Some women hit the maternal wall long before the glass ceiling,” said Joan C. Williams, a professor at University of California Hastings College of Law. “There are twenty years of lab studies that show the bias exists and that, once triggered, it’s very strong.”
The number of annually filed pregnancy discrimination claims has been steadily rising for the past twenty years and is now at an all-time high, meaning it’s more of an issue than it’s ever been. More and more women are discovering that they are not being treated the same after returning postpartum. Although many new mothers decide not to return to work due to their newfound responsibilities at home or lack of affordable care, those who do are met with an involuntary setback pay- or position-wise.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was enacted to protect women against this issue. It is part of an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and is covered under sex discrimination. Only companies who employ fifteen or more people are required to follow the law, which prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. The law also requires pregnant women to be treated the same as any other applicants when seeking employment or applying for a promotion.
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, there are several rules employers must abide by, including the following: they cannot refuse to hire a mother-to-be solely because she is pregnant or has a pregnancy-related condition; an employer can’t require a pregnant woman to submit to special procedures to determine their ability to perform job duties; if a medical condition related to pregnancy keeps a woman from performing her job duties, her employer must treat her like any other temporarily disabled employee; a company cannot prohibit a woman from working while pregnant and cannot refuse to allow her to return to work after giving birth; a mother-to-be must receive health insurance that treats pregnancy-related conditions the same as any other medical concerns; and she must not pay a higher insurance deductible than non-pregnant employees do.
Any woman who feels she has been discriminated against due to pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition should fully review her rights and, if warranted, file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).