Pregnancy and the Workplace: Know Your Rights

by | Sep 23, 2016

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 played a major role in promoting equality in the workplace by prohibiting discrimination in employment practices based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”[1] While the Civil Rights Act was a landmark piece of legislation, pregnant women in the workplace still found themselves facing discrimination. In an effort to strengthen the legal prohibition against sex discrimination in employment, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) in 1978.[2] The PDA amended the Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” and further amended it to state that “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-­related purposes.”[3] Employment-related purposes not only include hiring and firing decisions, but also “pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance, and any other term or condition of employment.”[4] Women are also protected from harassment in the workplace that is based off of pregnancy or any conditions related to it.[5]

Who is protected?

In order to qualify for protection under The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a pregnant woman must work for an employer who has at least fifteen employees. Pregnant women are also protected from discrimination by labor unions and employment agencies.[6]

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Abortion

The PDA protects pregnant women against employment discrimination, but it also includes wording that is meant to protect employers. Under the PDA, employers are not obliged to “pay for health insurance benefits for abortion, except where the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term, or except where medical complications have arisen from an abortion.” However, it also states that while employers are not required to provide these benefits, they may choose to offer health benefits for abortions to female employees if they wish.[7]

What if I am unable to work due to my pregnancy?

A pregnant woman suffering from a temporary disability that arose from her pregnancy must receive the exact same treatment that a non-pregnant employee with a temporary disability is entitled to. This means that any options that would be offered to a non-pregnant employee must also be offered to a pregnant employee, including but not limited to “light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave.”[8] It is illegal for an employer to treat pregnant women differently from other disabled employees or to implement pregnancy-specific “special procedures to determine an employee’s ability to work.”[9] Additionally, if other temporarily disabled employees are entitled to any type of leave—paid or unpaid—pregnant woman are also entitled to that same type and amount of leave.

More information about pregnancy discrimination in the workplace can be found at:

[1] Civil Rights Act of 1964, 7 U.S.C. § 703.

[2] “The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978,”

[3] Civil Rights Act of 1964, 7 U.S.C. § 701.

[4] “Pregnancy Discrimination,”

[5] Id.

[6] Civil Rights Act of 1964, 7 U.S.C. § 701.

[7] Id.

[8] “Pregnancy Discrimination,”

[9] Id.

If you believe you have been illegally discriminated against based on pregnancy, childbirth, or any medical conditions arising from either, we encourage you to seek experienced legal counsel to discuss your legal options.