Does Pregnancy Affect Unemployment Benefits?

Pregnant woman holding baby belly
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If you are pregnant and lose your job, you may still be eligible for unemployment benefits. Over the past 50 years, the federal government has passed a number of laws protecting pregnant women and new mothers from employment discrimination or hardship. One of them may help you collect benefits or find other resources to ease your unemployment.

For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act allows eligible parents to take a limited time off without punishment, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes firing a worker on account of pregnancy illegal.

Unemployment benefits programs are intended to provide a safety net for workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own.

If you're laid off or your company closes, you're entitled to receive a portion of your salary through the government.

There are ways to get disqualified from eligibility, but being pregnant is not one of them. Women who are pregnant and new mothers are eligible for unemployment benefits.

Who Is Eligible for Unemployment?

You are eligible for unemployment if:

  • You were fired or laid off through no fault of your own or were forced to quit under extreme circumstances.
  • You are available to work at another job matching your skills.
  • You worked for a company that paid unemployment taxes.
  • You earned enough money to qualify for benefits.

However, if you lose your job through no fault of your own before you would have gone on maternity leave, you should not collect benefits during a period of time in which you are unable to work. Generally, you will be able to put your benefits on hold during that time and resume when you are able to work again. In New York, for example, you are eligible to collect benefits if you are ready, able, and willing to work.

Consult your state’s department of labor for the guidelines for your location.

It is a violation of federal law to deny a claimant eligibility for unemployment benefits on account of pregnancy. In fact, a woman applying for benefits should not be asked whether she is expecting.

However, the program requires recipients to be available for work that uses their skills, and actively seeking a job. If you are unable to work because you are pregnant, you may be covered by disability insurance instead of unemployment benefits. For example, if your doctor has ordered you on bed rest, you would not be immediately available to work, and therefore would not be eligible for employment.

Further, a few states have paid family leave programs that are administered through payroll programs and offer income replacement for eligible workers.

Disclosing Your Pregnancy

You are not required to disclose your pregnancy unless it affects your availability for the kind of work you usually do. For example, if you're required to lift 40 pounds during the course of your work, and your temporary inability to do so would place other workers at risk, you would not be available to work. Note, however, that if your employer provides accommodations for other workers with limitations, you may be entitled to the same.

A pregnant woman should be eligible to receive benefits for as long as she is able to work. If her situation changes, she may lose her right to claim benefits.

If your unemployment claim is denied, you can appeal a denial of benefits.

Legal Protections for Pregnant Workers

It is illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 to fire an employee because she is pregnant. If you’re job searching, it’s also illegal for an employer to refuse to offer you a job based on pregnancy status, unless employing you would place other workers at risk.

Further, if your employer offers accommodations for workers with certain disabilities, they must provide the same for pregnant workers with the same disabilities. For example, they couldn’t provide ergonomic accommodation for a male worker with carpal tunnel syndrome, but refuse to do the same for a female worker with the same condition due to pregnancy.

Filing for Unemployment

Most state unemployment offices allow applicants to file for unemployment online. Some also allow applications by phone or mail. In any case, you will not be asked if you are pregnant. You will, though, be asked if you are available to work.

Once your application is approved, you'll file weekly. As long as you are not working full-time and are able to work, you are eligible for benefits.

If you file a claim for the week you give birth, you should indicate that you were not available for work that week. Your name will remain in the system until your doctor says you can return to work. You can file for the next week and your unemployment benefits will resume.

Filing an Appeal

If your unemployment claim is denied by the state unemployment department or contested by your employer, you have the right to appeal the denial of your unemployment claim.

Key Takeaways

If You’re Pregnant and Lose Your Job, You May Be Entitled to Unemployment Benefits: If you’re laid off or lose your position through no fault of your own, you may be able to collect.

It’s Illegal for Employers to Discriminate Against You Based on Pregnancy Status: This means includes firing you for pregnancy-related medical conditions, if they provide accommodation for similar disabilities unrelated to pregnancy.

If You File for Unemployment, Only Collect When You Are Available to Work: Do not indicate that you’re available to work if you’re medically unable to do so.

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. 

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Labor. "State Unemployment Insurance Benefits." Accessed Feb. 19, 2020.

  2. New York State Department of Labor. "Does Pregnancy Effect my Eligibility?" Accessed Feb. 19, 2020.

  3. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. "Legal Rights for Pregnant Workers under Federal Law." Accessed Feb. 19, 2020.