Navigating the workplace as a woman can be difficult, and it can become even difficult when you are pregnant or trying to conceive. If you are pregnant or hope to be in the future, it's natural to wonder what you should tell your employer, and what exactly they are allowed to ask about your pregnancy. Thankfully, there are some legal ramifications most employers must consider when discussing your reproductive choices that, for the most part, protect pregnant women in the workplace.
The answer, it seems, depends on the size of your employer and what, if anything, they intend do with the information. Unfortuntely, the laws protecting pregnant women from discrimination don't apply to all employers, and according to American Association of University Women, they can be both hard to understand and even harder to enforce. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against you because you are pregnant. Unfortunately, as Suzanne Lucas, "The Evil HR Lady," explains to CBS News, that doesn't mean they legally can't ask you about your pregnancy. According to workplacefairness.org, you don't have to let your employer know you are pregnant, even if they ask, but you may need to let them know if you are planning to take leave after your baby is born. The EEOC adds that an employer may also ask you questions related to your safety, and the safety of others on the job, during your pregnancy, and may not be required to keep you in a position that poses a safety risk.
If this all sounds confusing, that's because it totally is. Read on for the facts about what questions your employer can actually ask you about your pregnancy, and how you might answer if you're put on the spot.
Asking an employee about their family planning seems super personal, inappropriate, and likely puts them on the spot, but according to HR professional Suzanne Lucas, contrary to popular belief, it's not illegal to ask someone when they are going to have a baby. It is illegal, however, to treat them differently based on their answer. (And it's pretty sexist, since people rarely ask men about their family planning plans. But I digress.)
So, how should you respond?
Lucas advises that you answer, "Not tonight." However, if an employer persists, or you think they want to know so they can treat you differently, you may want to be more direct. As Lucas tells CBS News, "He probably doesn't have a clue that considering pregnancy is illegal, so you should inform him. Next time he asks, say, 'John, you've asked me this questions at least five times. Just why do you want to know? Are you aware that you cannot consider pregnancy when deciding how to treat me or any other employee?'"
Believe it or not, according to Federal law, it's not illegal to ask an employee or job candidate if they are pregnant. According to the EEOC, it is discouraged, since using that information to discriminate against that person is against the law. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating against you because you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, could become pregnant in the future, have a pregnancy-related medical condition, or had/are considering an abortion. You don't, though, and according to the American Association of University Women, have to respond. That's right, you absolutely don't have to disclose your pregnancy to your employer.
According to workplacefairness.org, your employer does have a legal right to reasonable notification if you intend to take leave, and different types of leave — like sick leave, short-term disability, or unpaid leave through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) — may have different requirements for notification. According to the same site, your employer is not allowed to tell you that you have to take leave after your baby's birth. They are also not allowed to require you to go on leave while you are pregnant, as long as you are able to do your job.
According to the EEOC, your employer does not have to keep you in a job that you are unable to do or where it might be dangerous for other people. So, for example, while they can't fire or demote a pregnant firefighter, they can move her to a less risky desk job until her baby is born. According to workplacefairness.org, Federal law requires pregnant people to be allowed to work as long as they can do their jobs. It also means that a woman can take leave while pregnant and return to work once she's able able to fulfill the duties of her job, and can't be required to stay home until their baby is born.
According to the EEOC, employers are required to provide pregnant people with reasonable accommodations to do their job, under the PDA and/or the Americans with Disabilities Act. So if you have a pregnancy-related condition that "substantially limits a major life activity" — such as walking, standing, lifting — or the ability to carry your pregnancy to term, your employer must provide accommodations within reason. You can ask for an accommodation, or your employer can offer one, as long as it is similar to what others have been offered for similar conditions. Such accommodations might be light duty, a chair, telecommuting, or a modified work schedule.
It turns out that while you generally can't face discrimination for being pregnant, according to the American Association of University Women, you can be if you’re pregnant and unmarried. It may be hard to believe, but court cases have upheld religious and youth organizations' right to ban premarital sex for their employees, and may be allowed to fire any employee who gets pregnant out of wedlock. Wow.
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