Pregnancy Discrimination Act Turns 40

By Jack Tuckner, Esq.

This week’s the 40th anniversary of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act – the 1978 federal law designed and enacted to protect women who become pregnant while working, from being fired while pregnant and working. And that is historically been a major concern for one half of the population, and it still is. Because pregnancy discrimination is rampant. It’s alive and well in these United States for all kinds of reasons, in part because of the limitations of the federal law known as the PDA, and many jurisdictions now including New York State and New York City have expanded laws – 22 states and cities have additional, separate statutes that protect women who are pregnant from discriminatory treatment.

But here’s what you need to know wherever you work – the most important point is that pregnancy discrimination is sex or gender discrimination. Obviously, it’s inseparable from your pregnancy, from who you are as a woman. So if you’re being treated badly, differently, if you’re experiencing a hostile work environment, if you’re experiencing a change in how you were treated ever since you were pregnant, and your employer learned that you’re pregnant, and you may need time to have sonograms, you may need flexibility because you have severe morning sickness, you may have other pregnancy-related challenges, and, you’re going to need to take maternity leave, and your employer has to give it to you without attitude–without busting your shoes–they have to provide this protected leave, this space for you to have your baby, recover from childbirth and bond with your child. Period.

Or, it’s sex discrimination. If you’re not experiencing that type of flexibility from your employer now that you have told them that you’re pregnant, or it’s obvious that you’re pregnant, it’s illegal, and you must complain about it – internally to your employer, preferably in writing, so that you’ll give your employer the opportunity, the chance to do the right thing, and perhaps they will. But if they don’t, and they treat you worse, that’s illegal backlash, that’s retaliation, that you will be able to hold your employer accountable because you’ll have a paper trail.

Stand up for your rights, stand up for your rights to have a baby and to continue working, stand up for your rights to be pregnant while working, because that’s the law. Although, it’s broken every day in every jurisdiction, don’t be a person who gives up. Don’t quit, ’cause that’s like throwing out the baby with the bathwater, to coin a phrase. Don’t do it, because if you quit, you won’t have any leverage or a case at all against your employer.

Put it in writing, give your employer a chance to resolve the situation in your favor, document everything that happens after you complain in writing about how you’re being treated when pregnant. Pregnancy discrimination is sex discrimination, and it is illegal everywhere.