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What is Pregnancy Discrimination?

Legal content fact checked by Charles E. Joseph

Your questions about workers’ rights, answered

Pregnancy discrimination harms people in the workplace. Employers cannot refuse to hire or fire someone because of pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition.

But what is pregnancy discrimination? Can an employer ask if you are pregnant? And is pregnancy a protected class?

Keep reading to learn about your legal protections against pregnancy discrimination.

What is pregnancy discrimination?

Pregnancy discrimination means treating pregnant women unfavorably at work. An employer who refuses to hire a pregnant job applicant because of her pregnancy qualifies as pregnancy discrimination.

Pregnancy discrimination laws also protect women from discrimination because of childbirth or because of a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.

What is pregnancy discrimination in the workplace?

Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace occurs if an employer refuses to hire or fires an employee because she’s pregnant.

At work, employers cannot treat pregnant women less favorably. This includes unfavorable treatment in hiring, firing, promotions, training, and benefits.

Employers who commit pregnancy discrimination violate the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

What is the definition of pregnancy discrimination?

Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.

The act defines pregnancy discrimination as a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans unlawful sex discrimination.

The legal definition of pregnancy discrimination establishes that women affected by pregnancy or a related condition must be treated the same as other applicants and employees.

What is pregnancy and maternity discrimination?

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination occurs if an employer treats a woman unfavorably because she’s pregnant or experiencing a pregnancy-related medical condition.

For example, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects women from maternity discrimination, which can include discrimination against breastfeeding mothers. Victims of pregnancy and maternity discrimination can file a lawsuit against their employer.

Is being pregnant a protected class? Is pregnancy a protected characteristic?

According to federal law, pregnancy qualifies as a protected characteristic under sex discrimination laws. As a result, being pregnant places women in a protected class. Many state and local laws offer additional protections for pregnant employees.

For example, in New York City, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act guarantees reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. 

What are examples of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace?

To qualify as pregnancy discrimination, the employer must harm an employee because of her pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition. 

Examples of pregnancy discrimination include not receiving a job offer because of pregnancy, getting fired because you get pregnant, or losing your job because you decide to take protected maternity leave.

Other examples of pregnancy discrimination target employees who are not currently pregnant. For example, your employer cannot discriminate against you for saying you’re trying to get pregnant or for taking protected time off work for fertility treatments.

Employers also cannot discriminate against employees who take protected breaks to pump breast milk or against employees who take birth control to prevent pregnancy.

Can you get fired for being pregnant? 

Some employees may wonder: Can you be let go while pregnant? Is it legal to get fired for being pregnant? Employers cannot fire protected employees simply because of a pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition.

If you’re pregnant, you might wonder “can I be fired for pregnancy?” Your employer cannot legally fire you simply for being pregnant. The law protects your rights.  

Can you legally fire a pregnant woman? 

Employers and employees often ask, can you fire a pregnant woman? Is it legal to lay off a pregnant employee?

While pregnancy discrimination laws protect employees from being fired because of pregnancy, employers can legally fire a pregnant woman for non-discriminatory reasons. For example, employers can fire a pregnant woman for performance-based reasons that do not involve her pregnancy. 

However, if you get fired or laid off while pregnant, you may have a case. Contact a workplace discrimination lawyer to find out if you have a case.

Can a workplace fire you for being pregnant?

Your workplace cannot fire you because of pregnancy or a related medical condition. Similarly, employers cannot refuse to hire women because they’re pregnant or refuse employment benefits to pregnant employees.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects your rights as a pregnant employee, meaning your employer cannot legally fire you for being pregnant.

Can an employer ask if you are pregnant?

In general, employers should not ask job candidates or employees if they are pregnant. While it isn’t against the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, asking if you’re pregnant may open employers up to a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit.

If a hiring manager asks if you’re pregnant and you do not get the job, that can serve as proof of pregnancy discrimination. 

Can you be laid off while on maternity leave?

New parents may wonder, can you be let go while on maternity leave? It is not against the law to lay off or fire someone on maternity leave – however, it is against the law to fire someone because they’re on maternity leave. Employers can let employees go for non-discriminatory reasons, even on maternity leave.

But laying off men or women because they took protected parental leave can qualify as pregnancy discrimination. 

Can an employer discriminate against a pregnant woman?

No, employers cannot discriminate against a pregnant woman. Pregnancy discrimination laws prohibit discrimination in hiring, firing, or employment based on an employee’s pregnancy.

The laws also protect employees from discrimination because of a past pregnancy or because of a pregnancy-related medical condition, such as breastfeeding.

What prohibits discrimination against pregnant employees?

Federal, state, and local laws prohibit discrimination against pregnant employees.

At the federal level, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 protects employees from discrimination or harassment on the basis of pregnancy.

State and local laws also prohibit discrimination against pregnant employees. For example, in NYC the New York City Human Rights Law and the New York State Human Rights Law both prohibit pregnancy discrimination.

What does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibit?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy in any work situation. The law covers discrimination in hiring, firing, pay, promotions, layoffs, training, job assignments, benefits, and any other term or condition of employment, according to the EEOC.

What does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act cover? The law forbids treating an applicant or employee unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical condition.

Who does the Pregnancy Discrimination Act protect?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects employees who work for companies with 15 or more employees. Under the act, victims of pregnancy discrimination have 180 days to file a charge. Federal employees have 45 days to contact an EEO Counselor.

Many state and local laws offer even stronger protections. For example, the NYC Human Rights Law covers all employers with four or more employees, and victims of pregnancy discrimination can file in state court for up to three years.

Can I sue for pregnancy discrimination?

Yes, you can file a lawsuit for pregnancy discrimination. If you’ve experienced pregnancy discrimination at work, several laws protect your rights, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

By collecting evidence and contacting a pregnancy discrimination lawyer, you can strengthen your case against your employer. 

Can I sue my employer for pregnancy discrimination?

Yes, you can sue your employer for pregnancy discrimination. You can also sue a company that refused to hire you because of pregnancy.

During a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit, employees must establish that their unfavorable treatment was due to pregnancy or a related medical condition.

A pregnancy discrimination lawyer can help you make the strongest case.

What can you do about pregnancy discrimination?

Pregnancy discrimination violates your rights. If you experience pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, you can file a lawsuit against your employer. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act and other state and local laws protect your rights. 

A pregnancy discrimination lawyer can help protect your rights. In the New York City area, contact discrimination lawyer Charles Joseph for a free consultation. Charles Joseph brings over two decades of experience with pregnancy discrimination cases, and his firm has recovered over $140 million for clients.

You can also read more about New York pregnancy discrimination protections:

NYC Pregnancy Discrimination Law, Your Rights, and Potential Damages

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Legal content fact checked by Charles E. Joseph

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