The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978

How the Law Protects Pregnant Women at Work

Working pregnant woman
••• Hill Street Studios / Stockbyte / Getty Images out you are pregnant is a very joyous thing for most women—news you will likely look forward to sharing with all your friends and family—but wait a moment or two before telling your coworkers about it. Once they know, your boss will too, and while yours may be wonderful, not all are. Pregnancy discrimination is a real thing, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was enacted to protect women from it.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the government agency that enforces this law, reports that in fiscal year 2017 it received 3,174 complaints of pregnancy discrimination (Pregnancy Discrimination Charges: FY 2010 - FY 2017. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission). Susan Freinkel in "How to Protect Yourself Against Pregnancy Discrimination" (Babytalk, April 1998, 75-76), reports that many women are fired or passed over for a promotion after they announce their pregnancy. Before sharing your good news in the workplace, it is essential to know your rights under the law and what to do if a potential or current employer doesn't abide by them.

What is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 and How Does It Protect You?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and is covered under sex discrimination. It prohibits employers from discriminating against workers based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Only companies that employ 15 or more people are subject to this law. 

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), requires employers to treat pregnant women the same way they do all other workers or job applicants. Whether you are a pregnant job seeker or employee, here is how the law protects you:

  • When you are interviewing for a job, an employer cannot refuse to hire you solely because you are pregnant or have a pregnancy-related condition. The employer can choose not to employ you, however, if you aren't qualified for the position.
  • Your employer can't require you to submit to special procedures to determine your ability to perform job duties unless the employer holds all other employees and job applicants to the same requirement.
  • If a medical condition related to your pregnancy keeps you from performing your job duties, your employer must not treat you any differently than any other temporarily disabled employee.
  • Your employer may not prohibit you from working while pregnant and may not refuse to allow you to return to work after you give birth.
  • If your employer provides health insurance, the plan must not treat pregnancy-related conditions any differently than they do other medical issues.
  • When you are pregnant, your employer can't ask you to pay a larger insurance deductible than non-pregnant employees do.

What To Do If You Are a Victim of Pregnancy Discrimination

If your employer or prospective employer has discriminated against you, you can file a charge with the EEOC. It is essential that you are able to state what led to your conclusion. Have as much proof as possible to back up your claim. Otherwise, it is only your word against your employers' word. You must begin filing your claim within 180 days of the event.

Step-by-Step Guide to Filing Charges:

  1. Go to the EEOC Public Portal to submit an inquiry. You will have to answer five general questions. Your answers will determine if the EEOC can help you. Alternatively, you can submit an inquiry at one of EEOC's 53 field offices located throughout the county or by phone at 1-800-669-4000.
  2. If you are using the EEOC Public Portal and are told the agency can help you, you can go ahead and submit your inquiry. Remember that submitting an inquiry is not the same as filing a charge. It is only the first step. It allows you to set up an intake interview with an EEOC staff member at one of 53 field offices located around the United States or by phone. You will have to enter your contact information at this point.
  1. After filing your inquiry and scheduling an intake interview, the EEOC will ask supplemental questions to help begin the process of filing charges. This will occur before your interview.
  2. After your intake interview,  decide whether to file a charge. Only after you file one, will the EEOC notify the employer.