Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace

00427701I’ve worked in at least two places where a colleague announces her pregnancy only to have a cold silence fall over management. They’d never be brazen enough to admit it, but some managers find pregnancy an annoyance and resent the employee for “disrupting” the workflow by getting pregnant. The U.S. already has one of the shortest maternity leave policies in the western world. Add to it the disdain of management, and pregnant women in the workforce may start to feel a little less than appreciated.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and made discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions illegal. Title VII, covers employers with 15 or more employees and includes state and local governments. Here’

Title VII’s pregnancy-related protections include:

  • Hiring

    An employer cannot refuse to hire a pregnant woman because of her pregnancy, because of a pregnancy-related condition, or because of the prejudices of co-workers, clients, or customers.

  • Pregnancy & Maternity Leave

    An employer may not single out pregnancy-related conditions for special procedures to determine an employee’s ability to work.

    If an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job because of her pregnancy, the employer must treat her the same as any other temporarily disabled employee.

  • Pregnant employees must be permitted to work as long as they are able to perform their jobs. If an employee has been absent from work as a result of a pregnancy-related condition and recovers, her employer may not require her to remain on leave until the baby’s birth.
  • Health Insurance

    Any health insurance provided by an employer must cover expenses for pregnancy-related conditions on the same basis as costs for other medical conditions. An employer need not provide health insurance for expenses arising from abortion, except where the life of the mother is endangered.

    Pregnancy-related expenses should be reimbursed exactly as those incurred for other medical conditions, whether payment is on a fixed basis or a percentage of reasonable-and-customary-charge basis.

    The amounts payable by the insurance provider can be limited only to the same extent as amounts payable for other conditions. No additional, increased, or larger deductible can be imposed.

    Employers must provide the same level of health benefits for spouses of male employees as they do for spouses of female employees.

  • Fringe Benefits

    Pregnancy-related benefits cannot be limited to married employees. In an all-female workforce or job classification, benefits must be provided for pregnancy-related conditions if benefits are provided for other medical conditions.

    If an employer provides any benefits to workers on leave, the employer must provide the same benefits for those on leave for pregnancy-related conditions.

    Employees on leave because of pregnancy-related conditions must be treated the same as other temporarily disabled employees for accrual and crediting of seniority, vacation calculation, pay increases, and temporary disability benefits.

It is also unlawful to retaliate against an individual for opposing employment practices that discriminate based on pregnancy or for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or litigation under Title VII.

The bottom line – Women who are pregnant or affected by pregnancy-related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations.  For more information on EEOC polices, visit the EEOC’s website.

Mississippi sports bar sued for pregnancy discrimination

According to a lawsuit filed in late September by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Reed Pierece’s, a sports bar and grill in Byram Mississipi has been a really bad boss, allegedly firing a waitress based soley on the fact that she was pregnant.

Melody McKinley contends that she was fired after asking to change her shift to go to a doctor’s appointment and experiencing pregnancy-related complications. The suit alleges that Reed Pierce’s told McKinley that although she was a good employee, “the baby was taking its toll on her.” She was then let go from her waitressing job. McKinley asked to keep working as a call-in employee or hostess, but the bar refused. The EEOC clearly outlines its policy on pregnancy discrimination:

Pregnancy discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Mississippi (Civil Action No. 3:10-cv-00541-WHB -LRA) after first attempting to reach a voluntary settlement. The suit seeks monetary relief for the victim, a court order requiring the company to implement new policies and practices designed to prevent pregnancy discrimination, provide employee training on anti-discrimination laws, posting of notices at the work site and other injunctive relief.

“The law protects employees’ rights to continue working during their pregnancy,” said Delner Franklin-Thomas, district director for the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office.

C. Emanuel Smith, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Birmingham District Office, said, “It is important for employers to recognize that women have the right to remain gainfully employed throughout their pregnancy. This lawsuit is a step in that direction.”

In Fiscal Year 2009, the EEOC received 6,196 charges alleging pregnancy discrimination.

For more information on the EEOC and its policies, click here.

Prohibited Employment Practices: What your bad bosses should not be doing

Did you know that the EEOC prohibits “forcing an employee to resign by making the work environment so intolerable a reasonable person would not be able to stay”? Here a few more actions the EEOC prohibits:

  • Harassment can take the form of slurs, graffiti, offensive or derogatory comments, or other verbal or physical conduct. It is illegal to harass someone because they have complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.
  • The law requires an employer to reasonably accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs or practices, unless doing so would cause difficulty or expense for the employer. This means an employer may have to make reasonable adjustments at work that will allow the employee to practice his or her religion, such as allowing an employee to voluntarily swap shifts with a co- worker so that he or she can attend religious services.
  • The law requires that an employer provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense for the employer. A reasonable accommodation is any change in the workplace (or in the ways things are usually done) to help a person with a disability apply for a job, perform the duties of a job, or enjoy the benefits and privileges of employment.
  • It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee in the payment of wages or employee benefits on the bases of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Employee benefits include sick and vacation leave, insurance, access to overtime as well as overtime pay, and retirement programs.

I believe that because these violations can be so difficult to prove on a one-on-one basis, the practice of discrimination is far more pervasive than documented. Have you personally experienced any form of workplace discrimination? Share your thoughts in the comment section or email to share your story.

Click here to learn more about EEOC prohibited acts.

Republic Services to pay $3 million for firing older workers

Solid waste company Republic Services was found to have discriminated against 21 employees who were over the age of 40. Now the Phoenix based company must pay close to $3 million to settle the age discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). From the EEOC’s website:

According to the EEOC, Phoenix-based Republic terminated and denied job transfer opportunities to about 21 employees over the age of 40 at its facilities in southern Nevada between 2003 and 2005 because of their age. The list of terminated employees includes garbage collectors, drivers, and supervisors, some of whom were employed by the company for more than 25 years. The EEOC contends that those jobs were then offered to younger employees who were subsequently held to lower performance standards. The EEOC further charged that Republic engaged in a form of hazing called “break him off,” in which some employees were worked to the point of exhaustion, often making it difficult for them to do their jobs.

“No one should be harassed at work or forced out of a job for discriminatory reasons,” said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien. “The law clearly prohibits mistreatment or dismissal of older workers on account of their age, and no workplace should lose productive and valuable employees because of illegal age stereotyping.”

“Our hope is that other employers implement practices to ensure that age stereotyping does not occur in any facet of employment,” said P. David Lopez, General Counsel of the EEOC. “As illustrated by this settlement, the EEOC will insist on substantial and meaningful relief for victims of illegal age discrimination.”

According to the agreement, Republic Services must also provide annual anti-discrimination training to its employees, designate a corporate equal employment opportunity compliance officer and conduct an audit of its employment policies.

Read the whole story here.