Unfortunately, it's sometimes easier to change the legal employment landscape than alter prevalent workplace attitudes and prejudices. Too frequently pregnancy is construed as a personal indication that you have no need for professional fulfillment.
Even if you do consider work nothing more than a way to pay the bills, your rights are still important. Intolerant and illegal practices concerning pregnancy in the workplace can result in financial loss as career advancement screeches to a halt, you get the minimum salary bump at your next annual review, and bigger and better job offers dry up. Fortunately, federal and state statutes are in place to minimize the chance that you will be professionally or economically punished for your choice to become a mother.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is a 1978 amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act requires that your employer provide you with the same rights, resources, accommodations, and benefits as other employees who are on temporary disability due to illness or injury. It also dictates that your employer must allow you to work as long as you are physically able to do your job. Keep in mind that the act only applies to businesses with more than fifteen employees, and if your employer does
If you belong to a union, talk to your union representative about maternity and paternity leave under your contract. You may have additional rights and benefits that aren't available to nonunion employees at your workplace, and in some cases these can exceed the benefits covered by state and federal law.
If you're searching for a new position while pregnant, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects you from prejudice on the basis of your pregnancy. Still, legalities aside, pregnancy may make your interviewer look for other viable reasons not to hire you. It's illegal for a potential employer to ask if you're pregnant or not in the interview, and you certainly aren't required to volunteer the information. However, if the job is offered to you, it is probably in your best interest to mention your pregnancy during final negotiations. You want to start your working relationship off on the right foot and address any concerns your prospective employer has up front.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
If you or your spouse work for a public agency, a private or public elementary or secondary school, or a company with more than fifty employees for a period of at least a year, you have coverage under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA provides for up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave within a twelve-month period for medical and family caretaking reasons, including the care of a newborn child. Both moms and dads are eligible as long as they meet the employment criteria.
New parents who have been denied FMLA leave from their employer and believe they are eligible can file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The complaint must be filed within two years of the incident. Call the DOL at 1-866-4USWAGE for further information.
The FMLA also enables you to take unpaid time off if you experience health problems during pregnancy and your employer does not provide disability or sick day benefits. The same goes for extended time off you might require to care for your child should she have any health problems at birth. Again, the total time off provided for under the FMLA is not to exceed a total of twelve weeks in twelve months.
Depending on where you live, your state may mandate certain employee rights related to pregnancy and maternity benefits under Worker's Compensation laws. Check with the labor department or other applicable organization in your state to find out more.