Can My Employer Fire Me for Being Pregnant?
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) prohibits an employer with 15 or more employees from discriminating against or taking an adverse employment action against an employee because they are pregnant. Adverse employment actions include, but are not limited to, terminations. Unfortunately, some employers do break this law, subjecting employees to illegal discrimination and adverse actions because they are pregnant – or even because they intend to become pregnant or have the ability to become pregnant.
What If I Need an Accommodation to Continue Performing My Job While Pregnant?
Under the laws currently in effect, pregnant employees have not been entitled to an accommodation at work purely on the basis of their pregnancy; they have had to show that the employer has discriminated against them in violation of Title VII by denying them an accommodation but granting one to non-pregnant employees or that they are entitled to an accommodation due to a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADA). Under Title VII, employers cannot discriminate against pregnant employees in their provision of accommodations, for example by providing accommodations for other employees but not for pregnant employees. This does not mean pregnant employees are automatically entitled to accommodations under Title VII, just that pregnant employees cannot be treated differently than non-pregnant employees that are similar in their ability or inability to work. Under the ADA, qualified individuals with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations that will allow them to perform the essential functions of their job. Pregnancy itself does not entitle employees to accommodations under the ADA, so pregnant employees must have an impairment or condition falling under the ADA (for example, gestational diabetes) in order to be entitled to an accommodation.
However, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) will provide pregnant employees with important new protections and new rights regarding accommodations. The PWFA was signed into law on December 29, 2022 and will go into effect on June 27, 2023. It will require employers with 15 or more employees to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with limitations related to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. This means – even without discrimination under Title VII or a disability under the ADA – a pregnant employee will be entitled to request accommodations, and their employer must provide accommodations (for example, a closer parking spot, work attire that fits properly, and/or altered work hours) unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the employer. The employee might not receive the exact accommodation they request, and the employer may not unilaterally impose an accommodation of its choosing; instead, both must work together in an “interactive process” to identify a reasonable accommodation. The new law will only apply to situations that arise on or after June 27, 2023.
What About Nursing?
Since 2010, the Break Time for Nursing Mothers Act has required employers to provide some nursing employees with breaks during which to pump breast milk and private spaces (other than bathrooms) in which to do so, for one year after a child’s birth. These rights were primarily provided to non-exempt (hourly) employees. However, the new Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act (PUMP Act) provides protections for increased numbers of nursing employees. Like the FLSA, the PUMP Act gives nursing employees rights to break time during which to pump and private spaces (other than bathrooms) in which to pump. However, the PUMP Act expands these rights and protections to a greater number of workers, as it covers new categories of employees including exempt (salaried) workers and agricultural workers. Employers must comply with the PUMP Act by April 28, 2023.
Every case is different, and especially in light of these upcoming changes in the applicable laws, it is important to consult with an attorney. If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your pregnancy, disability, or another protected category or denied an accommodation to which you are entitled due to a pregnancy or disability, please contact the lawyers at Legare, Attwood, & Wolfe for assistance. (470) 579-3936 | law-llc.com
Authored by: Legare, Attwood & Wolfe, LLC