Pregnancy Discrimination is Often the Most Overt Form of Workplace Discrimination

By: Eva Zelson
On: May 30, 2024

Why Pregnancy Discrimination is the Most Overt Form of Workplace Discrimination?

It has been more than 40 years since the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was signed into law, yet this is still the most overt form of discrimination in the workplace.  Pregnancy discrimination is the unfair treatment, disadvantage, or exclusion of an employee solely due to their pregnancy and it is illegal.  Firing pregnant employees and denying accommodations and leave time are two of the most blatant and common acts of discrimination during pregnancy. The pervasiveness of pregnancy discrimination is alarming especially for women of color and low-income pregnant employees. While many advocacy groups are calling for more action in the form of federal legislation and methods of enforcement, it is essential to know your rights in the event you experience this form of discrimination.

Understanding Pregnancy Discrimination: Your Rights Explained

Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, pregnant employees are protected and have legal recourse if they are subjected to discrimination due to pregnancy. These rights were amended in December of 2022 with the passing of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA).  The PWFA has made great strides for the rights of pregnant workers guaranteeing the right to reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and other related medical conditions.  The PWFA addresses the needs of pregnant employees to continue working during their pregnancy.  These new provisions protect individuals who work for the government and for private employers with a minimum of 15 employees. PWFA includes temporary, seasonal, and part-time employees as well as individuals who are applying for jobs,  

The law protects people who work for the government, and for private employers with at least 15 employees. In addition to full-time workers, the law also protects part-time, temporary, and seasonal workers as well as people applying for jobs.

Types of Pregnancy Discrimination: From Hiring to Promotion

Pregnancy discrimination has been historically organized into two classifications: the overt and the subtle.  Both of these discriminatory actions create hostile work environments that can significantly impact the health, career, and the overall well-being of the employee.  Overt discrimination, as the name applies, is a direct and plain-sighted act of discrimination to a pregnant employee. These obvious acts of discrimination include:

  • Denial of reasonable accommodations
  • Unjustified terminations 
  • Demotions
  • Reductions in job duties and responsibilities
  • Denial of maternity leave
  • Salary reductions
  • Denial of promotions

Victims of such blatant acts of pregnancy discrimination are protected by legal legislation and have every right to rectify through legal action.

Subtle discrimination can often be a bit more challenging to recognize.  Being properly informed about how this type of bias can be indirectly applied to a pregnant worker is critical in taking the necessary action to fight discrimination. Common subtle acts of pregnancy discrimination include:

  • Dismissive attitudes from coworkers and managers
  • Unjustified exclusion from work meetings and other work-related activities
  • Lack of pregnancy-related accommodations
  • Unwanted jokes and comments regarding pregnancy
  • Inaccurate or inequitable performance evaluations 

Subtle discrimination can be problematic as it is not always clear or evident, however the effects of this behavior can result in discrimination in the workplace, which like other forms of workplace discrimination is illegal.

The Impact of Pregnancy Discrimination: Mothers and Workplaces

Pregnancy discrimination can have a profound impact on expectant mothers in the workplace.  In a recent study completed by Baylor University the effects of pregnancy discrimination on mothers was compelling. The study identified the following:

  • Increased levels of postpartum depression
  • Lower birth weights
  • Lower gestational ages
  • Increase in infant illness

Mothers also experienced a significantly difficult transition back to the workplace following being victimized by pregnancy discrimination.

Seeking Help: Addressing Pregnancy Discrimination

As a victim of pregnancy discrimination, two routes exist to address the issue.  

  • Internal Reporting Options

Pregnant employees should report the incident through their employer’s human resources or union representative. It is essential to keep accurate documentation of the incidents and witnesses. It also is important to review your company’s procedures and points of contact for reporting and discussing discriminatory incidents. You also can file a formal complaint through your employer or a grievance through your union. We recommend consulting an attorney before doing this to make sure the report has all the necessary information.

  • External Resources and Legal Support

Victims of pregnancy discrimination can also file a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Because of the unlawful nature of discrimination, pregnant employees may also seek legal support and take action against their employer. 

Contact Zeff Law Firm if you believe you have been the victim of pregnancy discrimination

If you believe you have been a victim of pregnancy discrimination, seek the expertise of the team of discrimination lawyers at Zeff Law Firm.  At Zeff Law Firm, we put over 30 years of litigating employment law to work for you and have a track record to prove our successful litigation of clients’ cases.  We will advocate your rights so you can focus on the health and well-being of yourself and your baby. Contact us to discuss your legal options today.

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