Women in the workplace are slowly pushing through the glass ceiling because of activists who paved the way. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed in 1978; since then, courts have looked to protect pregnant women's interests in the workforce.
Consider these past issues that made laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act necessary:
- An employer cannot fire a woman for being pregnant. A Houston restaurant had made it a policy to lay off pregnant women by their third trimester, citing the baby's safety. The courts, however, ruled that the employers cannot make such decisions for pregnant women and their babies.
- Pregnancy cannot be a reason for not hiring a woman. Even businesses that cater to pregnant women have struggled to understand and live by this rile. The clothes retailer Motherhood Maternity, for example, had to pay $375,000 in 2007 to settle a pregnancy discrimination suit after refusing to hire three qualified applicants because they were pregnant.
- Future pregnancy cannot be a reason for not hiring a woman. Not too long ago, it was common for an employer to ask a potential female employee about whether or not she had children or about her plans to have children. The wrong answer to a question like this could mean the difference between having an income and not having an income and losing health insurance. Future employers cannot discriminate in this fashion.
- Employers cannot prevent a woman from working or fire her because of lactation. This is a fairly recent change. For years, working women who were nursing had to use lunch and break time to pump or run home to feed the baby. The Affordable Care Act now requires employers to provide reasonable breaks for new mothers to pump breast milk for up to a year after an infant's birth.
- Employers cannot fire or harass a woman for having or considering an abortion. Harassment on the job is illegal, but the Pregnancy Discrimination Act also protects women from this type of treatment.
- Employers cannot replace a woman after maternity leave. Another example of maternity discrimination happens after pregnancy. Many women return to work after leave only to be replaced or moved off lucrative or important projects. Employers generally cite alternative reasons for these kinds of replacements or demotions, since they don't want to get in trouble with the law, but if you believe you lost your position because you took maternity leave, you can take legal action to prove your employer's illegal behavior and obtain compensation and possibly reinstatement at that position.
The fight for fairness in the workplace is not over. A UK website called Pregnant Then Screwed collects stories about employers that discriminate against pregnant women. Fortune magazine even suggests U.S. workers start a similar site. Our experienced legal team can help you if you believe that your employer has been discriminating against you because of your pregnancy. Call us for a consultation.