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What does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act actually cover?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act precludes employers from discriminating against pregnant women, including hiring, promotion, and continuing their employment.

Am I protected from pregnancy discrimination if I'm not currently pregnant but plan to become pregnant?

In certain circumstances, you are protected from discrimination even if you’re not pregnant but are planning to become pregnant. If your employer is aware that you plan to become pregnant, that is not a legitimate basis to alter or change the terms of your employment based on any perceived ideas about what pregnancy will mean for you. While some courts say planning to become pregnant isn’t covered under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, others say it’s clearly sex discrimination, because only women may become pregnant.

Are certain pregnancy-related medical conditions covered under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

There are conditions that can arise during pregnancy that are protected against discrimination. For example, the need for bedrest is one. Additionally, physical restrictions, such as limits on lifting certain weights are covered in part by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. That can also potentially be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act. If some aspect of pregnancy limits one of your major life activities, then you can have protection under the ADA as well.

Is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act effective in protecting pregnant women?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act offers some protection for pregnant women. Sadly, people are treated differently because they are pregnant, are expecting to become pregnant, or are the parent of a small child. It still happens far too often. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act doesn't create criminal penalties where the government will step in and address these situations. But civil litigation is something that can fix it if there is evidence of the employer’s unlawful motive. It’s always on the individual who's subjected to the discrimination to take steps to vindicate her rights. Unfortunately, many people are unable to afford to hire private counsel or to find someone who is willing to take the matter on a pure contingency. This limits the effectiveness of the Act, given that it’s for private causes of action to resolve and attempt to fix violations.

What are some examples of pregnancy-based discrimination in the workforce?

There are several ways in which discrimination against a pregnant individual can manifest itself in the workforce. We’ve seen numerous cases of where women were treated differently because their employers believed that they knew what was best for the pregnant women. We’ve seen employers impose limitations (such as lifting certain weights) imposed on women who neither asked for nor needed reduced responsibilities. We’ve seen women terminated because their employer thought it would be better for them to stay home. As if a choice that women have is whether or not to earn a living.

There have also been cases where an employer refused to grant a temporary accommodation based on a pregnancy-related restriction. For instance, if someone has a certain condition that requires certain adjustments to her working conditions—like a delivery truck driver or a warehouse worker who must do a lot of heavy lifting—such as a restriction on lifting things over 25 pounds. If an employer would grant an accommodation to a non-pregnant employee for a temporary physical restriction, then they need to afford the same accommodation to a pregnant woman. For example, if a male employee injures his back in an ultimate Frisbee tournament, needs a few weeks to recover, and has to have limited duty because of restrictions during that recovery time period, an employer that grants that accommodation has to grant such requests to pregnant employees on a similar basis.

We’ve also seen people who’ve been denied the opportunity for promotion because it might include travel and the employer thinks that a pregnant mom or a mom just returning from maternity leave may not be as willing or excited about travel. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is really about allowing the people who are pregnant to make decisions about what their work life is going to be instead of having an employer impose some set of circumstances based on outdated notions about what motherhood and parenting is.

Can an employer ask if someone is pregnant?

Employers are allowed to ask if someone is pregnant, but they can't make decisions based on the answer to that question. There’s no absolute prohibition on asking people questions about their medical situation whether it’s pregnancy or something else, but an employer cannot make decisions about whether or not to hire, promote, or terminate someone based on the answer to that question. In general, it’s best that they not ask, lest they be accused of having used the answer to that question to discriminate.

Can an employer fire me if I am temporarily unable to do my job due to a pregnancy?

Whether you can be fired because you’re unable to do your job while pregnant depends on a couple of factors. If people are unable to perform the core duties of their positions because of pregnancy, that’s something an employer can take into account. If people are unable to come to work, their employers are not required based on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act to keep the position open for them when they return. Other laws may step in to provide temporary protection for needed leaves of absence such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, which provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for people who are dealing with a serious medical condition. I'm sure you can imagine a scenario where a pregnant woman needs to go on bedrest for some period of time, is unable to appear at the office, and is unable to work remotely for some reason—when it’s not the type of job that could facilitate that circumstance.

But the Family and Medical Leave Act applies only in certain circumstances. FMLA eligibility requires that the employee have been employed with the company for 12 months, and have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months before the start of FMLA leave. And the employer must one have 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the worksite. Those requirements do not apply to small employers or new employees, and leave many workers unprotected.

For more information on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in Ohio, please call our office today at (216) 578-1700 and speak with one of our intake specialists, or fill out our online contact form.

Related Practice Areas
Pregnancy Discrimination

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