Equal Opportunity

Pregnancy Discrimination

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Excerpts taken from The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission "Training and Technical Assistance Program 2002" and online at http://www.eeoc.gov/facts/qanda.html

Q & A: Pregnancy Discrimination - What Practices Are Discriminatory?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

It is illegal to discriminate in any aspect of employment, including:
hiring and firing;
compensation, assignment, or classification of employees;
transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall;
job advertisements;
use of company facilities;
training and apprenticeship programs;
fringe benefits;
pay, retirement plans, and disability leave; or
terms and conditions of employment.
Title VII's broad prohibitions against sex discrimination specifically cover:
Sexual Harassment - This includes practices ranging from direct requests for sexual favors to workplace conditions that create a hostile environment for persons of either gender, including same sex harassment. (The "hostile environment" standard also applies to harassment on the bases of race, color, national origin, religion, age, and disability.)
Pregnancy Based Discrimination - Pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions must be treated in the same way as other temporary illnesses or conditions.

Facts About Pregnancy Discrimination

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. Women affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees with similar abilities or limitations.


An employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because of her pregnancy related condition as long as she is able to perform the major functions of her job. An employer cannot refuse to hire her because of its prejudices against pregnant workers or the prejudices of co-workers, clients or customers.

Pregnancy and Maternity Leave

An employer may not single out pregnancy related conditions for special procedures to determine an employee's ability to work. However, an employer may use any procedure used to screen other employees' ability to work. For example, if an employer requires its employees to submit a doctor's statement concerning their inability to work before granting leave or paying sick benefits, the employer may require employees affected by pregnancy related conditions to submit such statements.

If an employee is temporarily unable to perform her job due to pregnancy, the employer must treat her the same as any other temporarily disabled employee; for example, by providing modified tasks, alternative assignments, disability leave or leave without pay.

Pregnant employees must be permitted to work as long as they are able to perform their jobs. If an employee has been absent from work as a result of a pregnancy related condition and recovers, her employer may not require her to remain on leave until after the baby's birth. An employer may not have a rule which prohibits an employee from returning to work for a predetermined length of time after childbirth.

Employers must hold open a job for a pregnancy related absence the same length of time jobs are held open for employees on sick or disability leave.

Health Insurance

Any health insurance provided by an employer must cover expenses for pregnancy related conditions on the same basis as costs for other medical conditions. Health insurance for expenses arising from abortion is not required, except where the life of the mother is endangered.

Pregnancy related expenses should be reimbursed exactly as those incurred for any other medical conditions, whether payment is on a fixed basis or a percentage of reasonable and customary charge basis.

The amounts payable by the insurance provider can be limited only to the same extent as costs for other conditions. No additional, increased or larger deductible can be imposed.

If a health insurance plan excludes benefit payments for pre-existing conditions when the insured's coverage becomes effective, benefits can be denied for medical costs arising from an existing pregnancy.

Employers must provide the same level of health benefits for spouses of male employees as they do for spouses of female employees.

Fringe Benefits

Pregnancy related benefits cannot be limited to married employees. In an all-female workforce or job classification, benefits must be provided for pregnancy related conditions if benefits are provided for other medical conditions.

If an employer provides any benefits to workers on leave, the employer must provide the same benefits for those on leave for pregnancy related conditions.

Employees with pregnancy related disabilities must be treated the same as other temporarily disabled employees for accrual and crediting of seniority, vacation calculation, pay increases and temporary disability benefits.

Practical Guidance on Pregnancy Discrimination

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) amended Title VII to make pregnancy discrimination a form of sex discrimination under Title VII. Basically, there is one simple rule employees should follow in dealing with pregnant employees: treat women affected by pregnancy or related medical conditions the same way you treat anyone else who has similar limitations.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes it clear that employers cannot exclude pregnant women from jobs because of stereotypical beliefs that they are incapable of doing their job or that after childbirth they will leave their jobs.

As illustrated in the following example, even genuine concern that hazards inherent to a job could jeopardize the health of a fetus will not justify excluding pregnant or fertile women from the job.

Example: Ginny Taylor applied for a waitress hob at the River View Restaurant. Dan Mitchell, the restaurant manager, interviews Ginny for the job and is impressed by her past experience and cheerful demeanor. He offers Ginny the job. At the end of the interview, Dan and Ginny chat about their families. Dan mentions that one of the joys of married life is having children. Ginny delightedly responds that she and her husband are in fact expecting their first child. A few days later Ginny calls Dan to find out when she is to start at the restaurant. Dan informs Ginny that he decided to hire someone else because he was afraid that Ginny would not be able to carry the heavy trays that he did not want customers to think that he mistreated his employees by making them work when they were pregnant. Ginny tells Dan that he should no have assumed she couldn't because she was pregnant. Ginny files a charge of pregnancy discrimination with the EEOC.

As long as Ginny can do the work of a waitress, Dan cannot deny her the job because he fears that at some point Ginny won't be able to physically carry heavy trays or because he's afraid of what his customers might think if he allows her to carry the trays throughout her pregnancy. If it turns out that Ginny at some point is unable to lift the serving trays, then Dan must treat her like any other employee similarly unable to perform this function of the job. Let's say that another waiter, Mark breaks his arm. If Dan arranges for a bus boy to carry Mike's trays, this is what Dan should do for Ginny.