Losing your job to a person who is not pregnant, solely because of your pregnancy, would violate state and federal law. In these situations, employers may try to cover up their motivation by claiming there is not enough work, laying off a pregnant employee, and quietly replacing her. Employers may also fabricate reasons to fire the employee or use actual infractions but terminate the employee, though the discipline would ordinarily be less severe.
Pregnant Employee Trains New Employee Then Is Fired the Next Business Day
A Fort Wayne, Indiana office products and services store, Office Concepts, Inc., has agreed to pay $45,000 and provide other relief to resolve a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit brought by the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), according to an agency press release.
In the lawsuit, the EEOC made the following claims on behalf of Lynsey Burd:
- Burd informed Office Concepts of her pregnancy in April 2012.
- Office Concepts made negative comments about Burd’s pregnancy.
- Despite telling Burd and a colleague that they were doing fine, the company hired a third office worker.
- The day after Burd finished training the new employee, Office Concepts fired her.
- Just after the firing, the company hired another new employee.
- Neither of the two new employees was pregnant.
The EEOC charged Office Concepts with violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana after the parties failed to reach a pre-litigation settlement through the agency’s conciliation process.
The company denied it broke the law but has agreed to pay Burd $45,000. Office Concepts also promised to distribute a new nondiscrimination policy to all employees, attend three antidiscrimination training sessions led by the EEOC, and submit compliance reports to the agency for two years.
Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The PDA makes pregnancy discrimination illegal when it comes to any aspect of employment, including firing. Under the PDA, employers cannot discriminate against employees for the following reasons:
- they are pregnant or were pregnant in the past,
- they could become pregnant or intend to become pregnant in the future,
- they have a pregnancy-related medical condition, or
- they had an abortion or are considering having one.
An employer is not required to keep you in a position that you are unable to do or where you would pose a significant safety risk to co-workers. Your employer cannot take away your job or place you on leave because it thinks or believes your work would pose a risk to you or your pregnancy.
Steps to Take When You Are Pregnant and Having Trouble at Work
If you are having difficulty performing your job, discuss the situation with your health-care provider and then with your manager. Discuss whether you can make changes to the job to enable you to perform it or whether there might be light-duty functions you could do. Reduced workloads and temporary reassignments may be an option, but they may come with reduced pay. Your employer cannot reduce your pay because of an accommodation to your regular job.
If you really cannot perform your regular job safely, no matter the accommodations, altered job duties under the PDA may be an option. Depending on how the company treats nonpregnant employees with similar restrictions, the law may require your employer to reduce your workload, remove or change an essential function of your job, or assign you to a different position temporarily, as long as your employer does these things for nonpregnant employees with similar limitations.
Summing It Up
Federal law treats pregnancy just like any other protected characteristic, such as race, color, religion, or disability. It is illegal to fire an employee because she is pregnant, just as it would be illegal to fire her because of her race, age, or ancestry.
- At some point, your pregnancy may prevent you from performing your work.
- How, when, for how long, and why you may not be able to work varies from case to case depending on the pregnancy complications that may arise and the nature of the job.
- You have options under the law that may allow you to work as long as possible.
- What is not an option is your employer firing you because it has stereotyped you as unreliable and eager to leave because of your pregnancy.
If you believe your employer has discriminated against you because of your pregnancy, contact our office so we can talk about the situation, about how the law may apply, and about what you can do to protect your rights.