Employers routinely deny basic accommodations to pregnant employees, according to a recent report published by the National Women’s Law Center and A Better Balance. The report indicates that women are more likely to face pregnancy discrimination if they have jobs that are typically held by men or low-wage jobs. Regardless of where they work, it is important for both employers and employees to know that both federal and Washington state law prohibit pregnancy discrimination.
One example of pregnancy discrimination described in the report was Guadalupe’s story. Guadalupe was a line worker at a Mexican fast food restaurant who was subjected to new restrictions after she told her boss that she was pregnant. She was required to ask permission to use the restroom, was prevented from taking short breaks to eat snacks, and was prohibited from drinking water while working on the line. Guadalupe’s boss fired her after she left work early one day to go to a prenatal doctor’s appointment. After she lost her job, Guadalupe was forced to rely on food stamps and unemployment benefits to support her family.
The mistreatment that Guadalupe suffered is prohibited by the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”) and the Washington Law Against Discrimination. Under these laws, employers are forbidden from discriminatory acts such as firing or refusing to hire a woman because she is pregnant or may become pregnant. Other forms of discrimination affecting things like pay, hours, or training opportunities are also prohibited.
Employers must make reasonable accommodations for a temporary disability caused by pregnancy, such as a lifting restriction. Under Washington law, disability leave is one reasonable accommodation that an employer must provide if the woman’s doctor has ordered it. After the pregnancy-related disability leave is over, the woman is entitled to return to her same job or an equivalent job. On the other hand, an employer cannot force a pregnant employee to take leave and must allow her to come to work so long as she is able to perform her job.
In Washington, a woman who has suffered pregnancy discrimination can file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) or the Washington State Human Rights Commission. Under federal law, a woman must file a complaint with the EEOC before she is able to bring a discrimination lawsuit. Washington, on the other hand, does not have that requirement. There is also a time limit for filing a complaint, which is generally 180 days. A Washington employment lawyer can help you navigate these laws and preserve your rights.
Unfortunately, Guadalupe is not the only woman who has been treated unfairly or even fired on account of her pregnancy. According to statistics published by the EEOC, almost 6,000 women filed complaints for pregnancy discrimination in 2011 alone. It is regrettable that pregnant women suffer discrimination, but these laws allow them to seek compensation for their employers’ unlawful acts.