You're pregnant. Now what?
You're excited, and also a little bit terrified. Having a baby, starting a family, is the epitome of a life-changing event. A million thoughts race through your mind -- everything from baby names to stroller styles to stroller models to work.
Yes, work. Navigating the workplace -- not to mention workplace politics -- can be a challenge for pregnant employees.
Here, we'll answer some of the most common job-related questions working moms-to-be have, from what to disclose during interviews to discrimination protections to returning to work after having a baby.
The answers below are based on the legal protections provided by the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978, except where noted. Pregnant employees are covered by the PDA if they for an employer with 15 or more employees, but are not covered if they work for an employer with fewer than 15 employees – for example, if you work for an individual as a caregiver.
Some states and cities have laws that may cover smaller employers and/or provide additional employment protections for pregnant women. These local laws are not described below.
I’M PREGNANT AND SEEKING A JOB
- I have an interview. Do I have to tell my potential employer that I'm pregnant?
You do not have to tell a potential employer that you are pregnant. The PDA bans employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against pregnant job applicants and employees. The PDA makes it illegal to discriminate based on pregnancy, childbirth or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, in any aspect of employment – including hiring and firing, pay and promotions, job assignments, layoffs, training, and benefits such as leave and health insurance. The PDA does not require job applicants to inform potential employers that they are pregnant.
- What if a potential employer asks me if I'm pregnant or planning on getting pregnant? Can they do that? Do I have to answer?
Employers are not prohibited from asking you if you are pregnant or planning on becoming pregnant, but you are not legally required to answer the question.
- Can a potential employer refuse to hire me because I'm pregnant?
A potential employer cannot refuse to hire you because you are pregnant, gave birth, or have a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Doing so would violate the PDA.
I’M PREGNANT AND EMPLOYED
- When do I have to tell my employer? Can I be fired or reassigned?
You are not required to tell your employer that you are pregnant, and you cannot be fired or reassigned for being pregnant. But you can be fired or reassigned for a legitimate reason unrelated to your pregnancy. So, if your employer would have fired or reassigned you if you weren’t pregnant, being pregnant does not prevent your employer from taking such action.
- My doctor just told me that for the rest of my pregnancy I need to sit while I'm at work and that I can't lift more than 25 lbs. Is my employer legally required to accommodate me?
Under the PDA, your employer is required to treat you the same as other employees who are not pregnant at work, but who are “similar in their ability or inability to work.” For example, if your co-worker has a back impairment and your employer allows him to use a stool to carry out his job functions, you may be allowed the same accommodation.
Your employer may also be required to accommodate you under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) if you have a pregnancy related limitation that qualifies as a “disability” under that law. For example, courts have concluded that pregnancy-related impairments such as pelvic inflammation and complications related to a breech presentation may be disabilities under the ADA.
Some states and cities also have laws requiring employers to accommodate pregnant workers. A list of these laws is here.
- Do I have a legal right to time off to give birth or to bond with my new child?
It depends. If you work for a covered employer (generally, a private sector employer with 50 or more employees within 75 miles, or a public sector employer) and you are eligible (generally, you have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period prior to when your leave would start), then you are entitled under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to up to 12 workweeks of unpaid leave.
Laws in some states provide greater protections than the FMLA by covering more workers, offering more time, or providing paid leave. There are also several state and local laws that guarantee workers access to pregnancy disability leave, to guarantee time off to prepare for and recover physically from giving birth, or to paid sick days, which in some circumstances can be used for the birth of a new child. You should also consult your employer’s specific leave policies.
Learn More About What Maternity or Paternity Leave You're Entitled To
- What should I do if I think my employer is discriminating against me because I'm pregnant?
If you think your employer is discriminating based on pregnancy, review this “know your rights” guide. You can try to address the concern with your human resources department or a supervisor. You can also contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, your state or local fair employment office, or a lawyer or legal aid office.
I’M RETURNING TO WORK AFTER HAVING A BABY
- I still need to take bathroom breaks more frequently. Is my employer legally required to accommodate my continued medical needs?
Your employer may be required to accommodate you under the PDA if your need for more frequent bathroom breaks is a pregnancy-related medical condition. Your employer may also be required to accommodate your need to take more bathroom breaks under the ADA, if you have a medical condition that qualifies as a “disability” under that law.
- I would like to continue breastfeeding, but my employer doesn't have a private space for me to pump. Are there any laws that apply to my situation?
You may have the right to a private space to pump under a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires employers to provide reasonable break time and a private space for hourly employees to express breast milk. You may also have protections under state or local laws.
Read More About What Nursing Moms Need From Their Employers
You also cannot be discriminated against for breastfeeding because lactation is a pregnancy-related medical condition. For example, you cannot be demoted because you breastfeed. You also must be provided with the same ability to address lactation-related needs as a co-worker with a similarly limiting medical condition. For example, if your employer allows employees to change their schedules or use sick time for routine doctors’ appointments and to address non-incapacitating medical conditions, then you have to be allowed to change your schedule or use sick time for lactation-related needs under similar circumstances.
- Are there any laws that protect me from being punished due to my caregiving responsibilities?
Discrimination against caregivers is not prohibited by federal law, but employers who rely on gender-based stereotypes or assumptions about caregiving may be illegally discriminating. For example, your employer would violate federal law if it denied job opportunities to women with young children, but not men, based on the assumption that women are less committed to their jobs after having kids. There are also some state and local laws that prevent discrimination based on caregiving, family responsibilities and parenthood.
- Am I entitled to any time off to take my child to checkups or to get her/him necessary immunizations?
There is no federal law that guarantees you time off to take your child to the doctor for a checkup or for immunizations. However, laws are or will soon be in place in three states and 18 cities that guarantee access to paid sick days that can be used to take a child to the doctor. A list of these laws is available here.
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- What the State of the Union Means for Working Families - And Their Employers
The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice.
Vicki Shabo is vice president at the National Partnership for Women & Families.The National Partnership is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy group dedicated to promoting fairness in the workplace, access to quality health care and policies that help women and men meet the dual demands of work and family. More information is available at www.NationalPartnership.org.