How to Navigate Employment and Pregnancy: Know Your Rights

Pregnant employee holding her belly as she speaks with an associate at the workplace

Maybe you just found out you’re pregnant, and your first thought is, “Oh no! What if I lose my job? What if I miss out on a promotion? Will this pregnancy ruin my career?” Be encouraged! While employment and pregnancy can be a challenging time for any woman, there are protections in the United States for pregnant women in the workforce. Further, if you truly can’t continue with your current job, there is plenty of help for you and your baby to get you through pregnancy and even into the first few years of your child’s life.

Understanding the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act

There is a new federal law, the Pregnant Worker’s Fairness Act, that works to protect pregnant and postpartum women in the workplace. This Act requires employers (if they employ fifteen or more individuals) to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant and postpartum women in their employ. What does this mean?

Reasonable Accommodations Explained

pregnant woman sitting at a desk writing in a notebook

Well, a “reasonable accommodation” is any accommodation that doesn’t cause undue hardship or a direct threat. What does this mean in layman’s terms? It means that if a pregnant mother needs adjustments to her role or duties in order to continue to do her job, her employer needs to provide those adjustments. 

Some examples of accommodations provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are:

  • “Additional, longer, or more flexible breaks to drink water, eat, rest, or use the restroom;
  • Changing food or drink policies to allow for a water bottle or food;
  • Changing equipment, devices, or workstations, such as providing a stool to sit on, or a way to do work while standing;
  • Changing a uniform or dress code or providing safety equipment that fits;
  • Changing a work schedule, such as having shorter hours, part-time work, or a later start time;
  • Telework;
  • Temporary reassignment;
  • Temporary suspension of one or more essential functions of a job;
  • Leave for health care appointments;
  • Light duty or help with lifting or other manual labor; or
  • Leave to recover from childbirth or other medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.”

While these are examples of reasonable accommodations, they are not an exhaustive list. They merely show that accommodations must be made in order to comply with federal law.

Additional Workplace Protection for Pregnant Women

Another federal protection is called “Title VII.” This protects pregnant women from being discriminated against when seeking or working at their job. Does this mean an employer must hire any pregnant women to avoid discrimination? No. However, it does mean that they can’t consider the woman’s pregnancy when making a decision about employment.

a black clipboard holds FMLA documents with a hand hovering over the paper

Another protection available to expectant mothers is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This Act allows workers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons – including pregnancy, childbirth, and newborn care. 

While these protections are wonderful, it is possible that they won’t work for you. Perhaps you work for a very small employer who is not covered by these laws. Or, you’re working in a cash industry without any type of employment paperwork. Possibly, your employer simply refuses to follow these laws and you don’t have the desire to fight them on it. In these circumstances, it may be better for you to seek a different type of employment. If you’re planning to hunt for a job during your pregnancy, know that while pregnancy may make this process more challenging, it does not make it impossible. Consider applying for jobs with flexible hours, choose interview times (when possible) when you tend to feel best, and consider whether you would like to be upfront about your pregnancy during the application process or whether you would rather wait until you are hired. 

Support and Resources for Pregnant Workers

Finally, realize that there is plenty of help for women who are struggling during pregnancy. Reach out to your local pregnancy center and find out what kind of help is available in your community. Remember that pregnancy doesn’t last forever. In nine months (or less if you’re already partway through your pregnancy), you will begin the journey back to your “normal self.”

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