If you’re pregnant and working, it’s time to consider what kind of accommodations you need to get through that workday. Do you need a different assignment, and how do you even request that? How do you recognize pregnancy discrimination when applying for a job?
While the overall climate for pregnant women in the workforce is improving, it’s always essential to have your voice heard. When you need to stand up and advocate for yourself–you know specific laws and standards will have your back. So, what rights do you have in the workplace? When do you seek legal counsel? What should you know in general?
Let’s start with knowing your legal rights.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA) makes it illegal for employers with over 15 employees to discriminate against pregnancy, childbirth, or other related conditions. As a pregnant worker, you must be provided with the same benefits (and accommodations) as non-pregnant workers with similar limitations.
Your employer cannot discriminate against you based on:
- If you’re pregnant, have been pregnant, or could become pregnant.
- Have a medical condition that is related to pregnancy or childbirth.
Examples of discrimination include:
- Being harassed in the workplace (by anyone, at any level).
- Being denied promotions, given a demotion, pay cut, or given worse working conditions.
- Being forced to take leave, even if you’re able (and willing) to work.
- Being denied reasonable workplace accommodations, similar to those with similar limitations.
What you do after discrimination is vital to ensure your concerns are heard and actions are taken.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against at work for the above examples, you should immediately:
- Write down the incident, including when, where, and what the other party said. If you see witnesses, note them as well.
- Review your company handbook (or policy) for how you can file a complaint for discrimination claims. Sometimes, your company may lay out who you contact for these instances.
- If you feel comfortable discussing it with your supervisor (knowing they will advocate for you), report it. Give them the details of what happened and ask how you can file a complaint.
- File the complaint.
- You can escalate the complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) before you file to understand your rights. You don’t need a lawyer already to contact them.
You may feel a company has overlooked your skillset because you are pregnant or may become pregnant. As before, you’ll want to note what happened, file a complaint with the EEOC, and consider filing a lawsuit. The following are also relevant if you’re looking for a job.
When should you disclose pregnancy to your coworkers?
Your pregnancy announcement is up to you. It’s your right to decide when it is best to tell your co-workers. Many women wait until after the first trimester to tell family and friends – so use your discretion.
For your boss, here are some tips on talking to them:
- Be sure your boss hears about your pregnancy from YOU, not your coworkers. While you may be close to some of your coworkers – you’ll want to control how your boss hears about it.
- Educate them about the time you may need for your prenatal care. You’ll have check-ins with your OB-GYN (more as it gets closer to delivery) and ultrasound visits. Those need to be accounted for.
- If you work with chemicals or do the heavy lifting, you may ask about changing responsibilities during the duration of your pregnancy. You’re going to want to keep your baby safe. Standing and being exposed to chemicals is the opposite of that. Ask about the availability of other positions you can work in.
How do you plan for your maternity leave at work?
As it comes closer, you have many thoughts about your maternity leave. Will you first be able to take any (paid or unpaid)? Will you be able to retain your health insurance? The answer is mostly yes.
When you’re planning out your maternity leave, ask yourself these questions:
- When do you plan to start your maternity leave? Will you be working up until giving birth to the baby or taking a few weeks off prior?
- How much time will you spend at home with your baby? Do you need to go back right away, or can you afford to stay home?
Planning just in case unexpected events can give you peace of mind in your workplace.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees to take time off, without pay, for pregnancy and family-related issues. You have the right to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year. Your health insurance will be protected during this time under the following circumstances:
- Your employer has 50 or more employees within 75 miles.
- You’ve worked for your employer for at least a year.
- You’ve worked at least 1,250 hours in the last year.
Knowing what your company offers in the planning process can help you get a good idea of your maternity leave roadmap.
Some questions you can ask HR (or your supervisor):
- Does your employer offer paid maternity leave?
- Do they offer remote options or flexible work schedules?
- Does your health insurance continue while you’re taking maternity leave?
Know what accommodations you need and advocate for them
You may already work for a great company that provides a good work-life balance. If you work in a warehouse, you may need extra rest breaks or access to the bathroom. Communicate those needs.
In cases where you’re not being heard or feel discriminated against, you can seek out organizations like A Better Balance and Center for WorkLife Law. A Better Balance will help train you to advocate for yourself, write a letter to your employer, or connect you with qualified lawyers. Usually, there is a fee for the service, but it’s attached to a contingency.
Talk to your boss (or HR) about your maternity leave before your expected due date. You may find flexible options to allow you to work a few hours (if you wish) and find out what benefits are available to you. Plan ahead on projects you’re working on and communicate to co-workers about job tasks. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 protects your rights – don’t let others take your rights away.
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