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What Does Pregnancy Discrimination In The Workplace Look Like?

Pregnancy is a transformative and joyous time in a woman's life. However, for many expectant mothers, the workplace can become an arena for discrimination and unfair treatment.

Pregnancy discrimination remains a prevalent issue that affects women across various industries and job positions. Here are some examples of what pregnancy discrimination looks like:

1. Unequal Treatment in Hiring and Promotions

Pregnancy discrimination often starts during the hiring process. Employers may intentionally overlook qualified candidates once they become aware of the pregnancy (or the possibility of new family planning). This form of discrimination denies pregnant women the same opportunities for career advancement that their non-pregnant counterparts enjoy. 

For example, a highly qualified candidate for promotion with impressive credentials could be denied the job once she disclosed her pregnancy to her employer if the employer says that they're concerned about her "ability to handle the demands of the job" while pregnant, nursing, or adding to her family. That faux concern is really about the employer's needs, but they may even attempt to make it seem like they're acting benevolently.

2. Refusals to Grant Reasonable Accommodations

On the flip side, an employer may be overtly hostile to a pregnant worker's needs. Pregnancy is supposed to be regarded like any other short-term medical condition or disability that may require reasonable accommodations.

For example, an employer may refuse to allow a heavily pregnant worker to take extra bathroom breaks or use a stool at her workstation, even though neither would really affect her ability to do the job. Other examples include:

  • Denying requests for flexible work hours
  • Denying leave for medical appointments
  • Refusing modifications to job duties that involve heavy lifting or exposure to harmful substances

Some pregnant employees experience a hostile work environment where they face ridicule, derogatory comments, or insensitive treatment related to their pregnancy. A pregnant worker might become the target of frequent jokes and comments about her physical appearance, stamina, and commitment to her job. 

3. Unfair Termination or Retaliation

Pregnant employees sometimes face unfair termination or retaliation for asserting their rights or advocating for necessary accommodations. Employers may use alternative justifications for termination, such as alleged poor performance or restructuring, while the underlying motive may be pregnancy-related discrimination. 

For example, shortly after announcing her pregnancy, a once highly valued employee may suddenly find that her employer now says she has "performance issues" that have never been mentioned before. 

Pregnancy discrimination, in all its forms, isn't just unfair — it's unlawful. A discrimination lawyer can evaluate your situation and help you understand your legal options.