Americans have a fundamental right to work, even when they're pregnant. The federal government amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to include pregnant women as a protected group in 1978. Title VII protects workers from unfair treatment or discrimination by employers and it now includes the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.
You Can't Be Refused Work Because of Pregnancy
If you are pregnant and apply for a job you're capable of performing, it is discrimination if the employer turns you away simply because you're pregnant. You can make a complaint against the employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
You Can't Be Fired Because of Pregnancy
If you are already employed and working when you become pregnant, your employer can't fire you or lay you off because of your condition. You can't be skipped over for a promotion for fear that you'll voluntarily quit after you have your baby. It's against the law.
Women Can Decide When to Stop Working
You and your physician are the only ones who can decide how far into your pregnancy you're going to work. Your employer can't force you out on unpaid leave until you're ready to go. However, employers can request your doctor's written permission for you to perform your job, particularly if it requires physical labor.
If you can no longer perform physical labor, your employer must usually adjust for that. If the company typically provides alternate jobs for temporarily disabled employees, it should reassign you as well.
Pregnancy-Related Time Off Is Disability Leave
When you decide it's time to stop working, your employer must treat your leave the same way the company treats the leave of any other disabled employee. Your boss isn't required to pay you for the time you're out unless the company typically pays other employees for disability time. Whatever standards apply to non-pregnant disabled employees apply to you, too.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act Has Limits
The PDA applies only to employers with 15 or more workers. The EEOC also exempts from compliance employers who can prove that keeping you on in your pregnant condition would pose an unreasonable hardship on the company.
This might be the case if you're the only employee who can perform a certain job, and it involves an amount of activity that your doctor hasn't approved. It would be unreasonable to expect the company to stop doing business until you can perform your job again. Your boss usually has the right to hire someone else to take your place.
An Employment Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding workplace discrimination based on pregnancy is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an employment lawyer.