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Pregnancy and the Workplace

Pregnancy is typically thought of as a happy occasion and telling co-workers you are pregnant might be one of the most exciting things you do after sharing the news with family and friends. Unfortunately for some women, though, the opposite is true. They dread telling their co-workers and employer they are pregnant and even today, live in fear their pregnancy will affect their career.

Due to the federal restrictions that make discrimination against pregnant women illegal, your employer cannot use pregnancy as a reason to fire you or to discriminate against you in any way. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include gender discrimination, which applies to pregnant women.

Employers are not only prevented from terminating you for your pregnancy, they also cannot refuse to hire you because you are pregnant, nor can they deny you a promotion. Pregnancy should also not play a role in determining an employee’s wages, privileges, terms, or conditions of employment.

Are You Able to Perform Your Job Functions?

The only reason a pregnant woman can be fired or an employer can refuse to hire her is because she is unable to perform the major functions of her job. This is true as well when it comes to promotions, job assignments, and benefits – pregnancy cannot interfere with decisions concerning any of these things, as long as a woman is able to do her job.

If you are unable to perform certain functions of your job, your employer is required to provide you with reasonable accommodations. Reasonable accommodations are defined as:

" accommodation that can be made by an employer in the workplace that will allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. Reasonable accommodations include, but are not limited to, restroom breaks, periodic rest for those who stand for long periods of time, assistance with manual labor, leave for a period of disability arising from childbirth, reassignment to a vacant position, and job restructuring."

New York’s Pregnancy Discrimination Protection

In addition to the federal protections provided to pregnant women, states sometimes offer additional protection. For instance, New York’s Human Rights Law states:

“Pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination. It can also be a form of familial status discrimination. Treating pregnancy-related conditions differently from other medical conditions is also disability discrimination. Furthermore, the Human Rights Law was amended by the Laws of 2015, chapter 369, to make explicit that which has long been the interpretation of the New York State Division of Human Rights: that employers are required to provide reasonable accommodation of pregnancy-related conditions.”

You can read more about pregnancy and New York’s Human Rights Law here.

In addition to the New York State law, New York City also has a Human Rights law that addresses pregnant employees. You can read a brief overview of employer guidelines and and pregnant employee rights here.

You Choose When to Share Your Pregnancy in the Workplace

Some women, anticipating a problem, do not even want to tell their employer they are pregnant. The good news is they are not required to do so by law, but if there are safety risks, it’s in your best interest and the best interest of your baby to do so. Eventually, you will need to let our employer know about your pregnancy because of medical and maternity leave. Review your employee policies to determine how far in advance you are required to give notice for time off and/or maternity leave.

If complications related to your pregnancy results in your missing work time, your employer is required to follow the usual policy in place for temporary disabilities. You cannot be disciplined for your absence, and if your employer provides benefits to employees who are sick or disabled, you are entitled to those same benefits. Under the law, pregnancy is essentially a temporary disability.

If you believe you have been discriminated against because you are pregnant or you were terminated and you believe it has to do with your pregnancy, we can help. Contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to discuss your situation.


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