Preventing Pregnancy-Related Discrimination

Most employers know and understand their employees are protected from workplace discrimination which ranges from safeguarding against unjust or prejudicial treatment based on gender, age or disability, to race-based discrimination.

What many don’t know is national anti-discrimination laws also protect women from pregnancy-related workplace discrimination and harassment.

pregnancyRobin Runge, Senior Policy Adviser for the U.S. Department of Labor Civil Rights Center identifies several red flags that indicate pregnancy-related discrimination may be at play:

  • An employment agency refuses to refer a pregnant individual for employment;
  • A job announcement that states  applications from pregnant individuals or individuals who may become pregnant will not be accepted;
  • Denying someone who is pregnant access to a training program, participating in other activities or receiving benefits;
  • Encouraging someone who discloses she is pregnant to drop out of a training or education program;
  • Refusing to provide a pregnant individual with regular access to a bathroom or breaks from standing for long periods of time;
  • Unwillingness to provide lactation breaks and a clean, private space (not restroom) to express breast milk.

Workplace harassment based on pregnancy goes a step further than discrimination by troubling, tormenting or confusing an employee through continual persistent attacks or questions. Be on the lookout for several signs that pregnancy-related harassment is occurring:

  • Asking inappropriate questions about the individual’s pregnancy such as “Who’s the daddy?”;
  • Making sexual comments or jokes about a participant’s pregnancy;
  • Calling a pregnant individual sexually charged names;
  • Making sexual propositions or gestures.
Scenarios: Examples of Pregnancy-Related Discrimination

Scenario 1:  

Jennifer comes in to an employment center asking questions about job training opportunities in construction. The staff member begins to tell her about the different apprenticeship programs available to her, that they are full-time and last for several months.

Jennifer discloses that she has just learned she is pregnant and is very excited about the training program because she wants a job that will enable her to support her son or daughter.

The staff member congratulates Jennifer and tells her that construction is not an appropriate career for a young, single mother and that there is no way she could complete the training before she would have to drop out to have the baby.

Maybe she should consider coming back after the baby is born and looking into an administrative job training opportunity.

Non-Discriminatory Response

The following responses could have been used to create a non-discriminatory situation:

  • Congratulations on your pregnancy. Thank you for telling me.
  • The apprenticeship program is a wonderful opportunity to develop skills in construction or HVAC – and we should talk more about both.
  • As your pregnancy progresses, we should discuss ways to ensure that you feel supported and are able to continue to participate for as long as possible.
  • We can also plan for any time that you will miss due to the birth of your child and discuss ways to make up missed time in the program.

Scenario 2:

Maria is participating in a job readiness class and must attend class eight hours a day, five days a week for 8 weeks and pass periodic pop quizzes to receive a certificate.

The teacher notices Maria frequently leaving the room, missing critical information and at least one pop quiz.  The teacher asks Maria about her leaving the room so often, saying that she may not complete the course because she is missing so much.

Maria explains that she is pregnant and needs go to the bathroom often. She goes on to say that she is experiencing some complications and that her doctor has asked her to come in to make sure everything is OK with the baby.

So, she will need to miss half of the class in a couple of days.

The teacher asks Maria to try to minimize the number of times she has to get up to go to the bathroom so that she doesn’t miss so much class time.

He also tells her she should make her doctor’s appointment at a time so that she won’t miss class.

Non-Discriminatory Responses:

  • Thank you for telling me about your pregnancy.
  • I understand that your pregnancy makes it so that you need to take frequent bathroom breaks.  Why don’t we schedule a time after class to talk to make sure that you are aware of the material you have missed.
  • Thank you for letting me know about your upcoming doctor’s appointment.  By telling me in advance, I can provide you with the materials from the part of the class you will miss so that you can study them and ask me any questions that you may have.  We can schedule a time for you to take any pop tests that you miss.
Ensuring Equal Access in the Workplace
  • Have a written policy of non-discrimination that includes pregnancy and covers employees and participants;
  • Train all staff on how to work with pregnant participants including providing accommodations for pregnancy-related medical conditions;
  • Keep personal and medical information related to pregnancy confidential;
  • Permit absences for pregnancy-related medical conditions for as long as a doctor deems medically necessary;
  • Provide the same services and benefits to pregnant individuals with medical needs as are provided to temporarily disabled individuals.
Acts of Protection

Acts protecting women from pregnancy-related discrimination include: The Workforce Investment Act of 1998, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

  •  The Workforce Investment Act of 1972 prohibits both intentionally treating women differently during their pregnancy and the use of policies or practices that are neutral on their face, but have disproportionate impact on women who are pregnant and are not job related and consistent with business necessity.
  • Additionally, Title XI of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 states, “A recipient shall not discriminate against any student or exclude any student from its educational program or activity, including any class or extracurricular activity, on the basis of the student’s pregnancy, childbirth, false pregnancy, termination of pregnancy or recovery therefrom, unless the student requests voluntarily to participate in a separate portion of the program or activity of the recipient.”
  • Under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination. The amendment states, “Women affected by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions shall be treated the same for all employment-related purposes….as other persons not so affected by similar in their ability or inability to work.”