Over the past several years, the need for better employment protections for pregnant women has become a nationwide concern. From potentially losing hours or even a job to feeling forced to perform tasks that may put a pregnancy at risk, for expecting mothers, workplace discrimination is often a very real threat—economically and emotionally. As a result, 27 states have enacted legislation aimed to shield women from unfair employment practices and improve health outcomes. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has not yet done so.

States that have put protections in place have seen a decrease in discrimination complaints. In part, that may be because employers have a better understanding of their obligations, and women are better able to negotiate appropriate accommodations. However, in Pennsylvania, which has not passed such legislation, 2018 brought the highest number of reports filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a decade.

Another unfortunate fact is that only about 1 in 3 complaints filed with the EEOC result in a favorable settlement, leaving many women little choice but to bring a lawsuit against their employer. Faced with an already financially and emotionally draining situation, expectant mothers often decide to try to move on instead of seeking legal help.

New Pittsburgh ordinance expands pregnancy protections

Where federal and state laws are lacking, local governments have begun taking steps to protect pregnant employees from discrimination. Philadelphia made it illegal for employers to deny reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers in 2014, and in March of 2019, Pittsburgh’s City Council unanimously passed an ordinance offering protections for both expectant mothers and their partners, regardless of marital status. Under the new ordinance, reasonable accommodations may include allowing medical leave, changing scheduling expectations and modifying work duties.

The loss of income and health insurance due to cut hours or termination may have a devastating impact on a family’s ability to provide essential care and financial support. Expectant mothers and their partners should know that they may be able to take legal action if an employer has discriminated against them due to pregnancy or other family responsibilities.