The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978

How the Law Protects Pregnant Women at Work

Working pregnant woman
How can the Pregnancy Discrimination Act protect you?. Hill Street Studios / Stockbyte / Getty Images

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits employers from hiring and other job-related decisions that discriminate against pregnant women. It was enacted in 1978.

Finding out you are pregnant is a very joyous thing for most women—news you will likely look forward to sharing with all your friends and family—but it might be somewhat stressful to tell your coworkers about it. Once they know, your boss will too, and while your colleagues may be wonderfully receptive of this news, not all in the workplace may be. Pregnancy discrimination is a real thing.

Pregnancy and Workplace Discrimination Issues

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that interprets and enforces federal employment discrimination laws, reports that in fiscal year 2019, it received 2,753 complaints of pregnancy discrimination.

Many women are fired or passed over for a promotion after they announce their pregnancy. Before sharing your good news in the workplace, know your rights under the law and what to do if a potential or current employer doesn't abide by them.

History of Pregnancy Discrimination

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was a result of two Supreme Court cases which ruled that excluding medical and disability benefits for pregnant women was not discriminatory.

In 1978, because of these decisions, Congress amended the Civil Rights Act to specifically prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy.

How the Pregnancy Discrimination Act Protects Women

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers to treat pregnant women the same way they do all other workers or job applicants. It is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and is covered under sex discrimination. Employers may not make decisions about hiring applicants or firing or promoting workers based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. All companies that employ 15 or more people are subject to this law. 

Here is how the law protects pregnant job seekers and employees:

  • Employers cannot refuse to hire applicants because of their pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions. An employer is not required, however, to hire an unqualified candidate or one who is less qualified than another.
  • Employers can't require pregnant workers to submit to special procedures that determine their ability to perform job duties unless the employer holds all other employees and job applicants to the same requirement.
  • If a pregnancy-related medical condition keeps a worker from performing job duties, the employer must not treat that individual any differently than other temporarily disabled employees in making accommodations.
  • Employers may not prohibit pregnant employees from working and may not refuse to allow them to return to work after giving birth.
  • Employer-provided health insurance plans must not treat pregnancy-related conditions any differently than they do other medical issues.
  • Employers can't require pregnant workers to pay larger health insurance deductibles than non-pregnant employees.

Filing a Pregnancy Discrimination Claim

If your employer or prospective employer has discriminated against you, you can file a claim with the EEOC. It is essential to be able to state what led to your conclusion. Have as much proof as possible to back up your claim, including documentation and names of witnesses. 

Employees must file a claim within 180 days of the event. This time limit is extended to 300 days if there is a state or local law that also covers pregnancy discrimination. Job applicants must file a claim within 45 days.

Step-by-Step Guide to Filing Charges:

  1. Go to the EEOC Public Portal to submit an inquiry. Answer the five general questions listed there. Your answers will determine if the EEOC can help you. Alternatively, you can submit an inquiry at one of EEOC's 53 field offices located throughout the county or by phone at 1-800-669-4000.
  2. If you are using the EEOC Public Portal and are told the agency can help, go ahead and submit your inquiry. Remember that submitting an inquiry is only the first step and is not the same as submitting a charge of discrimination. It allows you to set up an intake interview with an EEOC staff member at one of 53 field offices located around the United States or by phone. Enter your contact information when requested.
  3. After filing your inquiry and scheduling an intake interview, the EEOC will ask supplemental questions to help begin the process of filing charges. This will occur before your interview.
  4. After your intake interview, decide whether to file a charge. Only after filing one, which can be in person or through the online portal, but not over the phone, will the EEOC notify your employer.