Many women face workplace pregnancy discrimination. This may take the form of employers not hiring, firing or otherwise treating women unfairly simply for being pregnant.
Though illegal under both state and federal laws, pregnancy discrimination in the workplace still occurs. When it does, it can seriously impact the professional lives of women.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act are two federal laws that protect pregnant workers. The PDA prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. The FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for specific family or medical reasons, including the birth and care of a newborn child. The newly passed Pregnant Workers Fairness Act requires covered employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for women with limitations from giving birth, being pregnant or being ill because of either of the former. This applies only as long as the accommodations do not cause employers “undue hardship.”
While federal laws provide unpaid leave protections, Virginia itself does not have specific laws that do so. However, it recently passed a law that makes it easier for more employers to include paid family leave in their compensation packages. It also grants private insurers more flexibility regarding maternity leave. This helped increase the amount of workers who can access paid maternity leave. Employees may also be eligible for short-term disability benefits, which can provide partial income replacement during maternity leave, depending on their employers’ policies.
Despite legal protections, pregnant workers often face challenges in the workplace. They might experience subtle biases, reduced opportunities for advancement or even overt discrimination. Additionally, inadequate access to maternity leave can create financial strain for families. This in turn makes it difficult for pregnant employees to take time off work to care for themselves and their newborns.
According to the Center for Employment Equity at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, almost 70% of women continue working into their pregnancies, some into their final month. While regulations exist to protect them from discrimination, workplaces need to cultivate a culture that supports them to help prevent it.