Protection against pregnancy discrimination is relatively recent. In the past, when an employer didn’t want a pregnant woman at work or didn’t want to hold a spot for a new mother, it could terminate her without legal ramifications. Today, however, there are a number of federal and state laws that protect workers during their pregnancies. The most notable federal laws are the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, these only apply to companies of a certain size. Some states offer more maternity leave or extend coverage to employees of smaller companies. Your company’s Human Resources department or the labor office for your state can explain your options.
What Maternity Leave Is Required By FMLA?
Under FMLA, you are entitled to maternity leave if you work for a company that employs 50 or more people. You must have been employed there for at least one year and worked at least 25 hours a week. If you meet all the eligibility requirements, you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period for the birth of the baby. These 12 weeks can be taken all at once, or they can be broken up during the year before or after the birth of the baby.
Your employer cannot discriminate against you for asking for FMLA leave or retaliate against you for filing a complaint related to FMLA. Under FMLA, after you take the leave, you must be restored to the same or an equivalent job with equal benefits when you come back to work.
You should be aware that this rule about reinstatement does not apply to “key” employees at the top 10% of the compensation bracket. A company can deny reinstatement to these employees if reinstatement would cause substantial and grievous economic injury to the business. If a company intends to deny reinstatement, it must notify the employee as soon as it decides it would cause a serious economic injury. It also must provide the opportunity to come back to work in a reasonable time frame after leave has started before this notice is given. However, regardless of whether they are reinstated, key employees can take maternity leave and receive benefits during the leave.
If you are denied maternity leave, discriminated against with respect to maternity leave, or denied reinstatement when appropriate, FMLA allows you to file a complaint with the United States Department of Labor, file a civil suit, or do both at the same time.
What Should I Do If My Employer Discriminates Against Me for Taking Maternity Leave?
Both FMLA and PDA have remedies available if you are discriminated against or punished for taking maternity leave, or if you are forced to take a maternity leave you do not want. They also prohibit retaliation. Since PDA applies to companies that employ at least 15 people, it covers a broader range of employees than FMLA. Unlike FMLA, PDA is enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and you must exhaust administrative remedies before bringing a lawsuit to enforce your rights.
Under PDA, pregnant women cannot be forced to take mandatory maternity leave nor be fired because they are pregnant. However, they must be given the same health, disability, and sickness leave benefits as any employee with a medical condition. They must be given alternate assignment, disability leave, or leave without pay depending on the company’s policy or state law. This rule can be useful if your company offers job security or benefits to all of its employees, but it has little impact if your company does not offer these to any of its employees.