Having a child should be a joyful experience. For many working women, however, pregnancy is often accompanied by trepidation: How should I tell my boss I’m pregnant? Who will cover my workload when I’m on maternity leave? Can I be fired because I’m pregnant?
Fortunately, there are anti-discrimination laws that prohibit employers from considering pregnancy when making employment decisions (e.g., hiring, firing, compensating). If you are pregnant and working, it is important to know your rights before you inform your employer about your pregnancy.
Do Your Homework
The first thing to know is that pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is illegal. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1978, is designed to protect pregnant women against employment discrimination and workplace harassment. The PDA also offers pregnant women the same accommodations that are available to other temporarily disabled employees. While this federal law only applies to employers with 15 or more employees, a number of local and state laws cover more employers and provide stronger legal protections to pregnant workers.
In addition to protection from pregnancy discrimination and harassment, you may also be entitled to leave time to care for yourself and your newborn. Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), for example, employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide new and expecting parents (mothers and fathers) with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period. Some states, such as New York, also require employers to provide a limited amount of paid leave. Finally, you should also review your employer’s policies and procedures regarding family leave.
Despite these legal protections, the National Partnerhip for Women & Familes reports that pregnant women continue to face discrimination in the workplace. Between October 2010 and September 2015, about 31,000 pregnancy discrimination charges were filed with state and federal agencies, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), including claims of wrongful termination, retaliation, and workplace harassment.
While no one expects to fired for bearing a child, pregnancy discrimination is frequently more subtle and may involve a reassignment or demotion, a paycut or denial of a reasonable accommodation. Despite the risk of being discriminated against, there will come a time to share the news of your pregnancy with your employer.
When to Tell Your Boss You’re Pregnant
Although you are not required to notify you employer early in your pregnancy (employees covered under the FMLA only need to request leave 30 days in advance), women usually tell their bosses after the first trimester, when the risk of miscarriage has decreased. At the same time, it may be necessary to tell your employer about your pregnancy earlier than the first trimester, particularly if a pregnancy-related medical condition requires you to work from home or adjust your schedule for medical appointments.
Iny any event, your employer runs the risk of violating pregnancy discrimination laws by asking you about your pregnancy, so it may be wise to tell your boss sooner rather than later. Whenever you speak with your boss about your pregnancy, you should let him or her know the due date, emphasize that you remain focused on your job and that you intend on returning to work after your child is born.
It is important to demonstrate your commitment to the company by giving your employer enough time to plan for your maternity leave, as well as by offering solutions for managing the workload while you are on leave. Unfortunately, some employers cling to inaccurate perceptions that pregnant women are not reliable, and your boss may not be excited about the news of your pregnancy. Nonetheless, it is unlawful for your employer to take an adverse employment action against you (e.g. firing, demotion, reassignment) because of your pregnancy.
Requesting a Pregnancy Accommodation
Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers under federal laws such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act:
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to allow women who are temporarily disabled because of a pregnancy or related medical condition to take disability leave if other temporarily disabled workers are permitted to do so.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) considers medical conditions that substantially limit an employee’s ability to lift, stand or bend (including typical pregnancy-related conditions) to be covered disabilities.
Examples of reasonable accommodations include:
- A flexible work schedule
- Leave of absence
- Reassignment of non-essential job duties
- Transfer to a less demanding position
- Restrictions on standing, lifting
A number of local and state laws also require employers to make reasonable pregnancy accommodations. However, it is not necessary to make accommodations that would cause an undue hardship — changes that are too costly or impractical to implement — based on the employer’s size and resources.
Although telling your employer about your pregnancy can be difficult, you have legal protections under local, state and federal law. If you believe you have been subjected to pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, you may have grounds for an employmemt discrimination claim.