Pregnancy discrimination is a hot topic in today’s workplace – and for good reason. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ most recent figures, about 3/4 of mothers will school-age children, and 2/3 of mothers with preschool children, are in the workplace. But it’s no secret that many employers don’t much care for pregnant workers, or mothers with very small children, because they find them “inconvenient.” Pregnant women and new mothers may need time off or accommodations to help them during what is, at the best of times, a busy and stressful period. Fortunately, there are strong laws, both state and federal, protecting against pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. This article will briefly discuss a few of these laws but, as always, for more detail you should contact attorney Charles Stiegler.
Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The most important law forbidding pregnancy discrimination is the (aptly named) Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This Act was passed in 1978 in response to a Supreme Court decision which had held – incredibly – that discrimination against pregnant women was not “based on sex” and therefore was not covered by federal law. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, or PDA, overturned that decision and states that it is illegal to discriminate against any employee “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” It further states that “women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes…”
The PDA clearly established that it was unlawful for employers to discriminate against pregnant women because they were pregnant. It also covered “related medical conditions” which include, for instance, breastfeeding, and other issues related to pregnancy and early childrearing. Sadly, over forty years later, many employers have not gotten this message, and pregnancy discrimination claims remain one of the most common types of complaints in employment discrimination lawsuits.
Family and Medical Leave Act
The PDA requires employers to treat pregnant workers the same as others, but it is silent on the question of pregnancy leave. This is covered by another law, the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, which does provide for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for pregnancy and early childhood bonding. (Click to read our article on the Basics of the FMLA). When most people think of the FMLA they think about leave for illness or surgeries, but it also applies to pregnancies. In fact, in passing the FMLA Congress specifically recognized that “it is important for the development of children and the family unit that fathers and mothers be able to participate in early childrearing.”
With respect to pregnancy leave, the FMLA states that an eligible employee is entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year “because of the birth of a son or daughter of the employee and in order to care for such son or daughter.” (The FMLA similarly allows leave for adoption or foster care). On returning to work, the parent is entitled to return to the same job or, if that is not possible, one with “equivalent benefits, pay, status, and other terms and conditions of employment.” And, notably, the FMLA allows fathers to take leave
Unfortunately, not all employees are covered by the FMLA. Most notably, you have to work for a company at least one full year before you can reach FMLA eligibility. During that year, you must have worked at least 1,250 hours (this is an average of about 25 hours a week). And the FMLA only applies to companies that employ 50 or more people within a 75-mile radius. People who work for small companies are simply not eligible for FMLA leave. Read on, however, as they may be eligible for leave under Louisiana state law.
Louisiana Pregnancy Discrimination Act
Louisiana has its own Pregnancy Discrimination Act, passed in 1997. The Louisiana law is closely modeled on the federal PDA, and contains much of the same language forbidding discrimination or termination “because of the pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition.” It also allows a pregnant employee who has a disabling pregnancy to take up to four months of leave. While most pregnancies are not “disabling,” another provision provides that even healthy mothers with a “normal” pregnancy are entitled to six weeks of leave. While this is less leave than permitted under the FMLA, there is no requirement that you work for at least a year before taking leave. Nor is there a requirement of 50 employees within 75 miles. Therefore, the Louisiana pregnancy law covers many workers who are left out of the FMLA.
This article is meant as a brief overview – it does not cover all workplace laws addressing pregnancy discrimination or involving the legal rights of working mothers. If you do have any questions about your legal rights, or believe that you have been discriminated against due to a pregnancy or related medical condition, email New Orleans employment attorney Charles Stiegler today, or call (504) 267-0777.