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Protection For Female Workers Against Pregnancy Discrimination

By Samuel Cordes

Women are protected in their jobs against discrimination based on pregnancy by the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act or PDA, which requires that pregnant workers be treated the same as colleagues with similar abilities. The basis of the PDA is that pregnancy is a form of sex discrimination, a clarification of earlier federal discrimination law.

Adverse employment actions

Because a pregnant woman may not be discriminated against in employment, her employer may not take adverse actions against her on the basis of her physical condition. Such adverse actions that would be considered pregnancy discrimination include termination, failure to hire, failure to promote, unequal employment benefits, unequal pay rates, unequal leave rights and so on.


Another legal issue that arises in the workplace for pregnant women is whether and when employers must provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related limitations. An accommodation at work is a change in the workplace, work station, work procedures or work requirements that make work duties possible despite medical limitations.

Traditionally, pregnancy has not been considered a “disability” for purposes of laws prohibiting employment discrimination based on disability, mainly the Americans with Disabilities Act or ADA and similar state laws like the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act that require reasonable work accommodations for persons with disabilities. The murky result is that women may not always be legally entitled to accommodation during healthy pregnancies such as breaks for nausea, sitting instead of standing while working, drinking liquids during work activity, being relieved from heavy lifting duties and so on.

However, disability discrimination may be an issue during pregnancy that requires job accommodations if a medical problem arises during pregnancy that is considered a legal disability like dangerously high blood pressure.

A possible solution

A new law is being considered in both houses of Congress that would mandate that reasonable accommodations be required at work for medical conditions related to pregnancy, whether normal or with complications.

Supporters of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act advocate that limitations imposed by pregnancy should be reasonably accommodated at work just as disabilities are under the ADA. They feel that it should not matter that a normal pregnancy is a natural and healthy condition. It still limits women physically and denial of accommodation can increase the risk that a normal pregnancy will become high risk.

Experienced legal advice crucial

Federal and state laws concerning employment rights during pregnancy are complex and ever evolving. Any woman facing unequal treatment at work because of pregnancy or who needs reasonable accommodations during pregnancy should speak with a knowledgeable employment law attorney to understand the options available to her.