Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: An Overview

In 1978 , Congress passed the landmark Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). The Act has served as an important means of ensuring equality in the workplace, and has helped facilitate the entry of women into the workforce. Due in part to the PDA, pregnant women now make up a sizable portion of the workforce. As a result, every employer should be familiar with the PDA, and know the protections it imposes on pregnant women and the duties it imposes on employers. Below, I have outlined some of the important features of the Act, and provided some suggestions as to how employers can comply.

  • The PDA is a federal statute which amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to "prohibit sex discrimination on the basis of pregnancy." It applies to all employers with at least 15 employees, and requires employers to treat women affected by pregnancy, childbirth, or “other related medical conditions” the same for all employment-related purposes. This includes the receipt of fringe benefits. See 42 U.S.C. 2000e(k).
  • “Other related medical condition” includes infertility treatments. It also includes abortions, meaning that an employer may not treat an employee adversely for contemplating or obtaining an abortion. See Turic v. Holland Hospitality, 849 F.Supp 544 (W.D.Mich 1994); Denardo v. Clarence House Imports, Ltd. 870 F. Supp. 544 (W.D. Mich. 1994). Employers, however, are exempt from providing medical coverage for elective abortions unless the mother’s life is threatened. 
  • The PDA amended Title VII so that an employer may not:
      • Refuse to hire a job applicant because she is pregnant. 
      • Fire, demote, or discipline an employee for being pregnant. In fact, treating a pregnant employee differently in any way puts an employer at risk of violating the PDA. 
      • Discriminate against an employee on the basis of a past pregnancy or a potential pregnancy. 
      • Refuse to allow an employee to use accumulated sick days.
  • However, an employer is not required to find an alternative position for an employee who becomes pregnant. In one case, the court found that an employer did not unlawfully discriminate against a pregnant employee who requested light work but was forced to take unpaid leave when the employer could show that no light work jobs were available. Ultimately, an employer is only required to treat a pregnant employee like any other employee who is temporarily disabled.  
An employer should be sure that its employment policies conform to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and every other statute, regulation, and common law rule protecting pregnant employees. Contact an Ancel Glink attorney for a review of your policies to ensure that they are in compliance with all of the laws protecting pregnant women.