“Honestly, I wouldn’t have hired you if I knew you were pregnant,” my supervisor told me when I discovered that I had been replaced, just three weeks into my unpaid maternity leave. “You do a great job and you’ve been wonderful for our business, but I have to say, we were all disappointed when you told us. I thought you had poor posture when you first showed up.”
When I was fourteen weeks pregnant, a family emergency required that I move to a new town. Even with a good resume and work ethic, it seemed that every place I applied to work rejected me if I indicated on my job application that I was pregnant. Exasperated, and running out of options, I finally applied for a position as a consultant, and simply omitted the fact that I was pregnant from my application and interview.
I was hired on the spot, and later learned that my supervisors and coworkers all felt cheated when they discovered that I would need to take maternity leave in a few months. As a small business, they told me that their choice to replace me during my maternity leave was one made out of necessity: they would have no way to make ends meet with me gone, unless they hired a replacement. Because they were a very small business, they were exempt from the laws that would have protected me from this form of discrimination.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 guaranteed women the right to work and receive benefits during pregnancy. The Federal Agency known as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission works to protect expectant mothers from discrimination based on their pregnancy.
If you work for, or want to work for, a company that employs more than fifteen individuals, the act protects you from the following:
Refusal to hire pregnant women.
A company is not allowed to refuse to hire you because you are pregnant. The company in question may give you another excuse and not openly admit that you were rejected because of your pregnancy. If you strongly feel that the reason for your rejection was because you were pregnant, contact an attorney or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Firing a woman because she is pregnant.
If you already have a secure job, your employer is not allowed to fire you or ask you to leave because of your pregnancy. You are protected from this even if your pregnancy prevents you from being able to do your job exactly as before– for example, if you can only lift ten-pound boxes instead of twenty-pound boxes, or miss a few days of work because of morning sickness.
However, if you are completely unable to do your previous job or are missing a significant amount of time from work, your employer is only obligated to extend the same amount of leeway to you that he would extend to a worker who was sick or injured. If you miss five months of work because you are on bed rest, then need another three months for maternity leave, your employer is within his rights to replace you.
Firing a woman because she has had an abortion.
Your employer must respect your right to choice, regardless of his personal beliefs regarding abortion. If your employer has discovered that you have had an abortion, and he fires, replaces, or harasses you because of it, this is an act of discrimination.
Firing a mother, or removing her benefits or seniority during maternity leave.
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 guarantees you up to twelve weeks per year away from work, if you are away because of pregnancy, illness, or injury, or if you have to take care of a sick child, parent, or spouse.
If you are expecting, federal law allots you this time, which can be spaced out over a pregnancy. If the total amount of time that you have missed from work during and following your pregnancy totals less than 84 days. During this time, law protects you from losing your job, seniority, or benefits, if the company you work for employs more than fifteen individuals.
Although I was disappointed that I could not return to my previous job, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise for me. I was able to earn a near-equal level of pay from home, without having to leave my precious daughter to do so. Had the company been a larger conglomerate, I would have felt inclined to press charges, but I was sympathetic to the needs of the small business that employed me. After weighing the realities that my co-workers and supervisors dealt with in my absence, I began to understand why they would have chosen not to hire me had they known I was pregnant.
Larger companies, however, have no excuse for discriminating against pregnant women. Most employees of larger companies are given leave if they break a limb or become ill, and people with mild disabilities are guaranteed the right to continue working if they are able to fulfill the job requirements. The case should be no different for pregnant women.
If you have been fired or denied a job because of your pregnancy, you have the right to press charges against the company that has discriminated against you. Because there is a very short time frame for pressing charges, you should file a complaint immediately by calling the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at 1-800-669-EEOC.