So, you’re pregnant. Congratulations! Or maybe you’re thinking about starting a family, or maybe your partner is pregnant. No matter what, this is a very exciting (and nerve-wracking) time for you! One thing you shouldn’t worry about is work. Knowing what your rights are as an employee and that they’re protected ahead of time can save you a lot of confusion and heartache down the road. Two of these rights – the right to keep your job and the right to the same treatment as others with a short-term medical absence – are among the most important to understand.
An employer cannot fire you simply for being pregnant.
That’s right; you cannot be fired, forced out of a job, or demoted for being pregnant. This would violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was further clarified in an amendment titled The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Even in cases where the pregnant woman works in a potentially dangerous situation for her unborn child but is willing and able to perform a majority of her work duties, she cannot be fired.
There is one caveat to this law: it only protects employees who work in an office with 15 or more employees. If you work in a smaller office and being pregnant prevents you from fulfilling your work responsibilities, your protection is not guaranteed.
It’s also important to understand that the Family Medical Leave Act (commonly referred to as FMLA) will protect your job, for both men and women, for up to 12 weeks after giving birth or other medical event. It’s not paid leave, and it’s not reserved solely for maternity purposes, but it is available to those who need it. However, there is a similar caveat: FMLA does not apply to employers with 50 or fewer employees.
Each company’s leave policies are different. It’s best to check with your individual employer regarding any additional leave (maternity, short term disability, etc.) that may be available, as well as for scheduling and pay details.
You have the same rights as other employees who cannot perform their job function for a short period of time.
It’s important to note that pregnancy is not labeled or defined as a disability under the law; therefore, it does not fall under the Americans with Disability Act of 1990. However, if you do have complications or you are temporarily unable to perform your routine job duties, you have the right to receive the same treatment as other employees with temporary medical situations.
A recent Supreme Court decision supports this part of the Act of 1978. The Supreme Court determined that a pregnant worker should expect the same accommodations as other employees with temporary disabilities. Justice Stephen Breyer summed it up by stating that if an employer is not going to accommodate a pregnant woman while accommodating other employees “similar in their ability or inability to work,” the employer must have a “legitimate, non-discriminatory” reason.
Whether you’re considering starting a family, trying to become pregnant, or already pregnant, knowing your rights as well as your employer’s benefits can help you better plan for the future in order to reduce stress and ensure a more joyous event.
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