As a worker, you expect your employer to base conditions of employment on your knowledge, qualifications, and performance. For the most part, that does happen. But that can change if you are or intend to become pregnant. That's because some employers may feel that pregnant workers cannot successfully do their jobs because of their pregnancy. Thus, if your employer falls into this category, they might fire you.
Know this: Firing you (or making any adverse employment decisions) because you are or may become pregnant is a form of discrimination, and it's illegal.
Examples of pregnancy discrimination include, but are not limited to:
- Not hiring an applicant because they are pregnant
- Terminating or demoting an employee because they are pregnant
- Not providing the same or similar job to an employee returning from a pregnancy-related leave
- Not treating a pregnant employee the same as temporarily disabled employees
- Retaliating against an employee who reports pregnancy discrimination
Local, state, and federal laws forbid discrimination against an applicant or employee because they are pregnant, gave birth, or have a pregnancy- or childbirth-related medical condition. Unfortunately, many employees might not be aware of their protections or may be afraid to speak up, which is a disservice and allows this type of behavior to continue.
If you've been fired because of your pregnancy, let your voice be heard, advocate for yourself, or find a skilled attorney who will advocate for you. It's essential that you protect your rights, future, and livelihood.
What Are the Laws Protecting Pregnant Workers?
As mentioned earlier, several local, state, and federal statutes prohibit your employer from firing you because you're pregnant.
Some of the laws that offer you protections include:
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: This federal law states that employers cannot make retention decisions because an employee or potential employee is or will become pregnant.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act: This is also a federal law preventing pregnancy discrimination. It applies to employers with more than 15 employees.
- The New York State Human Rights Law: Regardless of size, employers cannot make firing decisions based on pregnancy.
- The New York City Human Rights Law: Employers with 4 or more employees are prohibited from firing workers who are or become pregnant. The law also applies to independent contractors.
What If I Need Time off from Work? Can I Be Fired Then?
You might hesitate to request time off for a pregnancy-related condition because you fear it could mean the end of your employment with the company. Your employer themselves might make comments about how they need someone in your position and cannot do if you are gone for an extended period. Such statements can make you feel like your only choices are to stay on or lose your job. But that's not necessarily so.
Under the Family Medical Leave Act, employers with more than 50 workers are required to give employees unpaid leave for temporary disabilities, including pregnancy. However, the law only applies under certain conditions. For instance, the worker must have been with the company for at least 1 year and at least 1,250 hours.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act also offers you protections should you need time off because of your pregnancy. If your employer allows temporarily disabled workers leave without pay, they must extend this to pregnant employees as well.
I Need a Certain Work Set Up. Is That Cause for Firing?
During or after pregnancy, you may need specific accommodations to do your job. For example, you might need more breaks or a chair to sit in while working. By law, if your employer accommodates employees with disabilities, they must make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, as long as doing so does not create undue hardships on the company. You might not get the precise setup you requested, but you shouldn't be fired for asking for or needing certain accommodations.
What If My Employer Is Subtly Trying to Fire Me Because I'm Pregnant?
Some employers may try to circumvent the laws protecting pregnant employers by using subtle tactics to fire them. For instance, your company might tell you that they have seen some performance issues and need to let you go, or they might create a hostile work environment that is so unbearable it affects your ability to effectively do your job.
Subtle forms of pregnancy discrimination are also unlawful. If you feel that you were fired not because of your performance but because of your pregnancy, speak with an attorney right away.
What Can I Do If I'm a Victim of Pregnancy Discrimination?
If your employer discriminated against you because of pregnancy or childbirth, exercise your rights. Depending on the situation, you may be able to hold your employer accountable and seek remedy.
Below are some steps you can take to build your pregnancy discrimination case:
- Keep records: Be sure that you have written documentation showing that you discussed your pregnancy with your employer. It's beneficial to communicate with your employer via email to have time-stamped and recorded messages.
- Document accommodation requests: As with having a written record of your pregnancy discussion, it's also important to note requests you made to your employer for any special accommodations you need.
- File a complaint: Notify the EEOC or appropriate state or city agency of pregnancy discrimination at your workplace.
- Consult with an employment law attorney: For help with the process of filing a claim and building your case, talk to a lawyer who knows New York's and the federal government's discrimination laws. They can explain proper actions to take.
At Nisar Law Group, P.C., we protect the rights of those discriminated against in the workplace. To protect your rights and hold your employer accountable for unjust practices, call our New York lawyers at (646) 760-6493 or contact us online today.