You’re Pregnant and Love Your Job, Are You Protected?
Whether your pregnancy was planned or a beautiful surprise, the coming nine months will have a life-altering impact on both you and your soon-to-be growing family; so you should not also be forced to deal with pregnancy discrimination from your employer. Unfortunately, many women are, in fact, confronted with such discrimination.
What is Pregnancy Discrimination?
As a woman, you suffer from pregnancy discrimination when you endure some form of adverse employment action – whether it is a discharge, demotion, a failure to promote, or loss of benefits – as a result of your pregnancy. Such discrimination can occur before you become pregnant, while you are pregnant, and even after you are pregnant. For example, if your employer fires you because you have expressed an interest in starting a family and becoming pregnant, then your employer has discriminated against you, because it unlawful for someone to fire an individual based solely on a condition that is related to that person’s gender or disability.
What Are Your Employment Rights When You Become Pregnant?
Under both Missouri and federal laws, there are various employment rights that protect you when you are pregnant.
To begin, while the Missouri Human Rights Act (MHRA) does not specifically cover pregnancy, it does protect against discrimination based on gender, and because pregnancy is a circumstance specific to women, pregnancy discrimination can be classified as a form of gender discrimination. This also means that if you are unmarried and pregnant, your employer cannot treat you different than they treat an unmarried man. Additionally, because pregnancy is classified as a temporary disability under Missouri law, there are various other protections you are afforded (including a requirement that you be provided the same leave benefits that are offered to employees with temporary disabilities). Furthermore, it is worthy to note that if an employer offers leave to care for a newborn, it is likely that Missouri human rights laws would require that the leave be offered to both male and female employees.
If you choose to continue working during and after your pregnancy, it is understandable that you may require some special accommodations. In Missouri, you only need a note from your doctor in which details of your condition and the specific accommodations you require are described. After your pregnancy, you may need to take breaks to attend to certain pregnancy related tasks, such as pumping milk. In such instances, if your employer would allow breaks for those with a disability, then your employer must also provide you with similar breaks. Moreover, Missouri law explicitly requires that a mother, using as much discretion as possible, may breastfeed or express breast milk in any public or private location. While the law does not mention employers, the expansive language of the law can be construed to include places of employment.
- Federal Law
There are several federal laws that afford protection to pregnant women. Two of the main laws providing protection include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
First, under Title VII, you are protected from employment discrimination based on gender and pregnancy, meaning that an employer may not discriminate against applicants or employees with regard to hiring, termination, promotion, compensation, training, job conditions, or privileges. (More specifically, under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act amendment to Title VII, it is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or other related medical conditions; as such, if you are pregnant or experiencing another related medical condition, your employer must treat you in the same manner as other employees with similar disabilities.) Title VII also prohibits employers from making decisions based on stereotypes or assumptions regarding gender or pregnancy. Finally, Title VII protects against both intentional discrimination, as well as unintentional or neutral discrimination, such as company policies which disproportionally impact employees on the basis of their sex.
While the FMLA does not protect everyone, it does provide protection for many. If you work for a government agency, elementary or secondary school, or a private employer with 50 or more employees, and meet other certain qualifications (i.e., worked at least one thousand two-hunderd fifty (1,250) hours over the previous twelve (12) month period at a location with fifty (50) or more employees within seventy-five (75) miles of the workplace), then you may be afforded these FMLA protections. Under the FMLA, employees may take up to twelve (12) weeks of family leave, during which time you cannot be fired or suffer adverse employment action for exercising this right. Unfortunately, in Missouri, your employer is not required to pay you while on pregnancy leave under the FMLA. However, you can apply vacation or personal paid days to your FMLA allotted twelve (12) week leave.
Choosing the Right Attorney
At Hollingshead, Paulus, and Eccher, we assist those who have suffered, or are currently suffering from pregnancy discrimination. We take the necessary steps to protect your rights and ensure that justice is served. If you feel you have been the victim of pregnancy discrimination, do not hesitate to reach out today. We are here to help you.