Working While Pregnant: What You Need To Know About Your Rights

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Mar. 7 2024, Published 8:10 a.m. ET

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Being pregnant can feel like a very vulnerable time, and in the U.S., pregnant workers have specific rights that protect them in the workplace. Pregnancy discrimination is, unfortunately, a reality for many women, as the Bipartisan Policy Center found that one in every five moms experience discrimination during pregnancy in the workplace. 

Keeping this statistic in mind, women need to know what their pregnancy rights. While this list details federal pregnancy rights, many states have even more protections.

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1. Pregnancy discrimination is illegal.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 made discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions prohibited in the United States. Discrimination includes treating either an employee or applicant unfairly in regard to hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, and additional benefits. 

The legislation doesn’t just apply when a mother carries a baby to term. Companies cannot discriminate when a pregnant worker has had an abortion or is considering having one.

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2. Your pregnancy rights afford you reasonable accommodation.

It’s important to note that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act essentially ensures that pregnant people cannot be treated differently than their colleagues. This law means that pregnant people have better job security as of the law going into effect. However, it also means that the company is not obligated to treat the pregnant person any differently than other coworkers. If your job involves potentially dangerous working conditions, your company will not exclude you from those duties.

That said, some accommodations in the case of pregnancy are allowed for employees who are temporarily unable to perform specific duties. Under the Americans With Disabilities Act, a company should provide accommodations based on an employee’s disabilities. Pregnancy itself is not a disability, but the ADA considers physical or mental impairment that occurs during pregnancy or childbirth a disability if it majorly impacts a person’s life. 

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As of 2023, President Joe Biden further solidified pregnancy rights regarding accommodations in the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to a worker’s “known limitations” tied to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medication conditions. An employer can argue that the accommodations cause undue hardship to them to excuse themselves from the law’s requirements. 

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3. You are entitled to 12 work weeks of leave.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, you can receive up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave in the case of birthing, adopting, or fostering a new child. Not all workers are entitled to this leave, however. 

To qualify for this leave, a company must be a private-sector employer with more than 50 workers, a public agency, or a local education agency. The employee herself must have worked with the company for at least 12 months, have 1,250 hours of service the year prior to the leave, and work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

It’s worth noting that, under the act, partner who is not pregnant can also take leave to care for a new child or provide care for a partner whose pregnancy or childbirth incapacitated them.

4. Small businesses may not have the same protections. 

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act all only apply to businesses with more than 15 employees. If you work for a company with fewer than 15 employees, these acts do not cover you. However, another state-level or regional bureau may offer additional coverage, so be sure to do your research, ask questions, and get to know company policies as they relate to state and local laws.

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Jacqueline Gualtieri Headshot 2023 – Jacqueline Gualtieri
By: Jacqueline Gualtieri

"Jacqueline Gualtieri is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Insider, and The Slowdown. As a former social media consultant, her work often advocates for digital advancement in the workplace, as well as for the empowerment of women to advance their careers on their own terms. She's a firm believer in lifelong learning and is always looking to hone new skills. Following the pandemic, she started challenging herself to learn one new skill per year. She’s already picked up embroidery, cross-stitching, knitting, and crocheting, but next up for her is expanding her list of languages to help her in her travels. When she's not writing for Her Agenda or working with her marketing and PR clients, you can find her writing new books and poems, crocheting toys for her nieces and nephews, or hitting the road with her partner and dog to explore a new place. She loves to explore her own backyard, finding hidden gems along the California coast, but she’s always looking for travel recommendations. But her happy place is at home with a good book and her senior pup by her side. In addition to travel recommendations, she’s always looking for her new favorite novel."

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