February 12th, 2013

Although terminating someone’s employment because they are pregnant has been against the law since 1978 when the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was first passed it does not stop some Minnesota employers from blatantly firing someone simply for being pregnant. Take the case of a woman who told her employer she was pregnant at the beginning of her second trimester. Her employer’s immediate response was “That’s not going to work.” She was fired the following day for no other reason than announcing her pregnancy.

Her employer simply said that since the company was small, it cannot afford to cover her when she would be on leave to have her baby. Then there are the numerous cases where pregnant workers are forced to take unpaid leave immediately upon announcing their pregnancy status. The forced time off is not based on a medical need or even requests for special accommodations such as lifting or other physical restrictions, but on an employer’s erroneous assumptions about the worker’s ability to do her job.

Then when the worker really needs to take time off, they have already exhausted their allotted time and are fired. Some employees are discriminated against over fears about how customers may perceive or react to, for example a pregnant restaurant server. The majority of female employees subjected to pregnancy discrimination are low-wage workers who really need to work as long as possible throughout their pregnancy.

But there appears to be hope on the horizon for pregnant women. The EEOC commissioner recently said that EEOC has chosen three legal issues involving discrimination where it wants to have an impact. One issue includes whether or not employers should be required to accommodate pregnant workers. Many women’s advocacy groups are pushing for changes to the ADA that in 2008, already expanded the definition of disability to include temporary disabilities.

No one should be discriminated against based on a disability, temporary or not and employees in Minnesota and elsewhere do have rights when it comes to the Family and Medical Leave Act as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act. Now the question seems to be whether a woman’s medical needs in relation to her pregnancy should be protected as a temporary disability.

Pregnancy discrimination is illegal and if the EEOC clarifies the language to include pregnancy-related disabilities, perhaps fewer women will be discriminated against in the workplace.

Source: Salon, “Being a pregnant waitress can get you fired,” E.J. Graff, Feb. 7, 2013

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