Pregnancy comes with many changes and requires some recovery and adjustment time, which will impact your job. If you’ve worked at your company for over one year and you work somewhere with more than 50 employees, the federal Family Medical Leave Act will likely allow you to take up to 12 weeks of leave after having a baby. This is great for those who are established in their positions – but what happens if you find out you’re pregnant after starting a new job?
Pregnancy Discrimination Act
In 1978, an amendment was made to the Civil Rights Act that grants pregnant women the right to work. It is enforced by the federal government and prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or medical conditions related to pregnancy and birth. The act states that employers cannot deny benefits to pregnant employees, deny milk pumping accommodations, harass a pregnant employee, or fire an employee based on their being pregnant or having a medical condition resulting from pregnancy or childbirth.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act also protects those seeking employment. This means that an employer cannot refuse to hire a qualified person simply based on their being pregnant or the assumption that they will soon become pregnant due to their age or stage in life. Interviewers technically can ask candidates if they are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, but many don’t, as it can lay the groundwork for a discrimination case should the candidate not be hired for some reason.
Navigating Pregnancy Within the First Year of Employment
In the United States, employees cannot access the benefits of FMLA for maternity leave until after one year of employment with a company. This means you may not have guaranteed job protection after you give birth if you’ve been employed for less than a year at your position. However, some companies have maternity leave policies that are more supportive of mothers within the first year, so if you are able to find out company policies while job hunting, it can help you avoid issues down the road.
While employees cannot take advantage of FMLA until after a year of employment, there are still some protections in place through disability. Employers must treat pregnancy as a disability, so if your doctor says you need six weeks to recover physically after birth, employers need to honor that if they would do the same for someone recovering from a car accident, for example. Therefore, unless your company has a very strict policy regarding injuries and illness as a whole, you will likely be granted some time off after giving birth according to your doctor’s recommendations.
To Disclose or Not to Disclose?
When applying and interviewing for jobs while pregnant, your priority should be considering whether the position is right for you, and your focus should be on presenting yourself as an excellent candidate to potential employers. Your pregnancy will need to be addressed at some point, but it is up to you when you tell your employer about your pregnancy status, so many women choose not to disclose this during the interview process to avoid unintentional or intentional discrimination.
One strategy is to wait until after you are offered a position to disclose you are pregnant. This may allow you to negotiate terms related to your situation in your contract. It also allows you to get a sense of how family-oriented your potential employer is before you accept the position officially. You may be able to negotiate a start date to begin after your baby is born or secure more paid time off to care for your child. If your offer is rescinded after announcing you are pregnant and no other shortcomings have been revealed, that constitutes suspicious decision-making and may be grounds for a discrimination complaint to the EEOC.
Waiting until after you’ve accepted and started a new job to disclose your pregnancy is an option, too. This may provide an opportunity to show your employer what an excellent employee you are, so they are more inclined to hold your position and accommodate your requests when it comes time to ask for time off after childbirth. It can go the other way, however, as some employers may feel misled or begin with a lost sense of trust if you wait until further into your pregnancy to disclose that information.
While it is up to you to decide when to disclose your pregnancy, remember the employer’s reality of needing to figure out how your work will be completed while you are gone. Your employer is likely relieved to have filled your position, and now they will have to deal with being short-staffed again while you are out. Leaving them with little time to plan for this can cause frustration and a lack of trust between you and them.
How Are Complaints Handled?
If you file a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Council, there are a few different things that could happen to get the case resolved. You may be referred to a mediator who can attempt to help you and your employer reach an agreement, the EEOC may file a lawsuit on your behalf, or they may dismiss the issue and provide you with a “right to sue” letter. An experienced attorney can be useful in all of these situations but especially when you’ve been given the right to sue, as you’ll need to sue the employer on your own behalf, which is a complex legal process.
What to Do If You Believe You’ve Been Discriminated Against Due to Being Pregnant
If you believe you were not offered a job due to being pregnant, or you are being discriminated against at work because you are pregnant or recently gave birth, consulting with an experienced attorney is a great first step. California Employment Council has a team of experienced employment attorneys who can evaluate your situation and provide you with options for how to proceed. Don’t let an employer’s discrimination overshadow this exciting time in your life; contact us today to seek justice for yourself and your family.