If you're expecting or adopting a child, it's important to know what laws relating to pregnancy discrimination and job safety are available to protect your rights. Optimistically, both will be non-issues, but the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has experienced an increase in these types of complaints in the last several years—so it's a good idea to be proactive.
What Are the Laws?
Probably the most important federal law an expecting mother must become familiar with is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This law protects against sex discrimination and treats pregnancy, pregnancy-related illness, and childbirth at an equal level as other medical conditions or short-term disabilities. An employer with at least 15 employees cannot fire or refuse to hire or promote a woman because she is pregnant, and can't force a woman to take mandatory leave because of a birth. Benefits, such as accrued retirement or seniority, must remain intact as well.
Basically, if your company has a disability leave policy, then pregnant employees must be treated the same as those employees who cannot work due to medical disabilities. It's important to note that women are not obligated to disclose personal intentions regarding having/adopting children. In fact, it's against the law for an employer to even inquire.
Another applicable federal law is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law permits an employee to take as much as 12 weeks of unpaid leave in any 12-month period for certain events. Birth or child adoption are two such events; however, the following criteria must be met:
- One year has been spent working for the employer (at least 1,250 hours during the previous year).
- Fifty or more people are employed by the company. (This point often disqualifies employees from being covered under the law.)
The law also requires that the employer continue to pay the employee's insurance premiums during the absence and allows the employee to return to the previous job or one equivalent to it with the same pay and benefits.
Keep in mind these four additional points regarding the FMLA:
- Teachers may be asked to remain on leave until the next school term.
- Companies can deny the benefit to salaried employees within the highest-paid 10 percent of their workforce, if "substantial and grievous injury" to business operations would be created.
- If employees don't return to work, employers can recapture the healthcare premiums paid during the leave.
- Employers can obtain a maximum of three medical opinions regarding the need for leave.