Illegal Termination: Recognizing Pregnancy Discrimination in Employment

Company employees working in office

Illegal Termination: Recognizing Pregnancy Discrimination in Employment

Illegal Termination: Recognizing Pregnancy Discrimination in Employment


Employment discrimination based on pregnancy is not only unjust but also illegal under federal and state laws. Pregnant employees have the right to be treated fairly in the workplace and should not face termination or other adverse employment actions because of their pregnancy. In this article, we will explore the issue of pregnancy discrimination in employment, provide information on how to recognize it, and discuss the legal protections available to pregnant employees.

Understanding Pregnancy Discrimination
Pregnancy discrimination occurs when an employer treats a woman unfavorably because of her pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. It is important to understand the various forms of pregnancy discrimination to effectively recognize and address it:

a. Termination: An employer cannot terminate an employee solely because she is pregnant or has a pregnancy-related medical condition. This includes terminating an employee due to concerns about the employee’s ability to perform her job while pregnant.

b. Hiring and Promotion: Employers must make hiring and promotion decisions based on an individual’s qualifications and abilities, rather than their pregnancy or plans to become pregnant.

c. Job Assignments: Pregnant employees should not be excluded from certain job assignments or denied opportunities for advancement due to their pregnancy.

d. Harassment: Unwelcome comments, jokes, or derogatory remarks related to pregnancy constitute harassment and are a form of discrimination. Employers have a duty to provide a workplace free from harassment.

e. Retaliation: Employers cannot retaliate against employees who assert their rights or file a complaint related to pregnancy discrimination.

Legal Protections for Pregnant Employees
Pregnant employees are protected by several federal laws that prohibit pregnancy discrimination and provide certain rights and protections:

a. Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA): The PDA is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prohibits sex discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Under the PDA, employers cannot treat pregnant employees less favorably than other employees in any aspect of employment, including termination.

b. Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a child, or for the employee’s own serious health condition. Pregnancy and childbirth-related medical conditions are considered serious health conditions under the FMLA.

c. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): Although pregnancy itself is not considered a disability, pregnancy-related medical conditions may qualify as disabilities under the ADA. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees with disabilities, such as modifications to job duties or work schedules, unless it imposes an undue hardship.

d. State Laws: Many states have enacted additional laws that provide additional protections for pregnant employees. These laws may offer broader coverage, longer leave periods, or additional accommodations.

Recognizing Pregnancy Discrimination
To recognize pregnancy discrimination in employment, it is important to pay attention to the following signs and indicators:

a. Disparate Treatment: Pregnant employees are treated differently than other employees in similar circumstances, such as receiving harsher discipline, being denied promotions, or being subjected to negative comments about their pregnancy.

b. Inconsistent Policies: Policies that apply differently to pregnant employees, such as restrictions on leave or accommodations, may indicate discriminatory treatment.

c. Sudden Changes: An employer’s sudden change in behavior or treatment towards an employee after she discloses her pregnancy may be a red flag for discrimination.

d. Negative Comments or Jokes: Inappropriate or derogatory comments related to pregnancy, childbirth, or a pregnant employee’s abilities can be indicative of discrimination.

e. Retaliation: If an employee experiences adverse actions, such as termination or demotion, after asserting her rights or filing a complaint related to pregnancy discrimination, it may be retaliation for exercising her rights.

Taking Action against Pregnancy Discrimination
If a pregnant employee believes she has experienced pregnancy discrimination, there are several steps she can take to protect her rights:

a. Document Incidents: Keep a detailed record of any incidents related to pregnancy discrimination, including dates, times, individuals involved, and details of the incidents. This documentation can be valuable evidence in a discrimination claim.

b. Report the Discrimination: Follow the company’s internal complaint procedures to report the discrimination to the appropriate person or department. This may involve filing a complaint with human resources or a designated individual.

c. Consult with an Attorney: It is advisable to consult with an experienced employment law attorney who can provide guidance on the best course of action. An attorney can help evaluate the strength of the claim, negotiate with the employer, or pursue legal action if necessary.

d. File a Complaint: If internal processes do not resolve the issue, the employee can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the relevant state agency. The EEOC will investigate the claim and may take legal action on behalf of the employee if warranted.


Pregnancy discrimination in employment is both morally wrong and illegal. Pregnant employees have the right to be treated fairly and should not face termination or other adverse actions because of their pregnancy. By understanding the signs of pregnancy discrimination, knowing their legal protections, and taking appropriate action, pregnant employees can assert their rights and seek justice. Employers must also educate themselves on pregnancy discrimination laws, establish policies that prohibit discrimination, and take prompt action to address any complaints or concerns. Together, we can create a workplace that respects the rights of pregnant employees and ensures equal opportunities for all.

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