Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace

Sara is a female receptionist at a physician practice who shares the joyous news of her new pregnancy with her co-workers. Ironically, about two weeks after announcing her pregnancy, Sara’s employer informs her that she is being removed from the window of the high-trafficked front desk and that she will no longer be interacting with patients as they enter and exit the practice. The employer claimed that this transition would best suit her side effects of pregnancy; citing potential hormonal changes and morning sickness as reasons for removing her from the busiest front desk in the office. Sara was assured that this was the best step in the interest of both the practice and for her pregnancy-the move would reduce stress during pregnancy while ensuring that customers are treated in the best manner possible. Sara was displeased but did not protest the move because of how valuable the health insurance provided to her by the practice would soon become to her family.

**While stress can be considered a serious health hazard for pregnant women, the actions taken by the employer in this scenario are ultimately considered unlawful by Federal Title VII laws.

Pregnancy discrimination is one of the fastest-growing types of employment discrimination being filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sprinting by the numbers of sexual harassment and sex discrimination charges in the nation.

Discrimination can take on varying degrees of boldness. Some employers take no time to hastily fire the employee while others are less blunt and try to subtly phase the woman out of her position. Stereotyping can play a significant role in pregnancy discrimination. Employers often perceive that pregnant women are unable to perform their job duties as efficiently as other workers, or they worry that once a woman becomes a mother, she will want to reduce her working hours or work more flexibly and won’t be as committed to her job. Regardless of motive, pregnancy discrimination is unlawful. Even discrimination based on the “potential” for pregnancy is illegal. It is also important to know that you cannot make any changes to an expectant mother’s work responsibilities unless there are clearly communicated health and safety reasons. If you identify potential health risks to the expectant mother or her baby, you must give information to all women employees of childbearing age. You must also explain what you will do to make sure that the new and expectant mothers are not exposed to risks that could cause them harm. Additionally, you can take steps to modify the work or work station to remove the risk, or assign her to lighter or different duties for the duration of her pregnancy on the same terms and conditions of employment. However, you must maintain the same terms and conditions of employment for her as before.

The following are some helpful points on how to ensure a smooth pregnancy between both the employee and the employer:

  1. Do not alter her work hours without her consent and do not make changes to her work responsibilities unless there are health and safety reasons. Furthermore, do not make any changes to her work, which could disadvantage her.
  2. Concerning sickness during pregnancy, you should generally follow your usual sick pay and sick leave procedures. However, if such conditions of sickness would normally result in dismissal, it is important to know that it is unlawful sex discrimination to dismiss her because of absence on a pregnancy-related sickness.
  3. Consider other options when preparing to adjust for an employee’s maternity leave.
    1. Recruit a temporary employee.
    2. Temporarily promote an existing employee and recruit a temporary cover for a more junior position.
    3. Split the work up between other staff.