Report shows pregnancy discrimination a continuing problem in the workplace

These days, as the number of women in the workforce who continue their employment throughout pregnancy is high, many likely assume that their employers will treat them appropriately throughout the duration of their pregnancy. Unfortunately, based on information recently published in a report by the National Woman's Law Center, pregnant women still face discrimination while on the job.

The report focused on the value of maintaining a fair and safe environment for pregnant women in the workplace and provided specific examples of women who had faced challenges at work while they were pregnant.

The importance of providing a positive environment for pregnant women

One of the primary reasons many pregnant women require a supportive working environment is the necessity of maintaining the position throughout the pregnancy.

According to the NWLC report, the number of women who are the primary wage earners in their family has increased substantially in recent decades. Currently, women hold that important role in around 40 percent of American families. In addition, women account for 25 to 50 percent of their family's earnings in approximately 23 percent of households across the United States.

Consequently, situations in which women are forced to take unpaid time off during their pregnancy - often due to restrictions employers are not willing to accommodate - can cause a severe financial problem for their families.

Protections currently afforded to pregnant women in the workplace

Despite some continuing bad practices, employers in the United States are prohibited from discriminating against women on the basis of pregnancy or childbirth. The protections stem from the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In practice, the Act prohibits employers, for instance, from deciding not to hire a woman because she is pregnant, among other forms of discrimination. The Act does not, however, require employers to provide accommodations to meet the often changing needs of pregnant women in the workplace.

As a result, the NWLC supported the passage of legislation that has been introduced in both houses of Congress, but has yet to become law. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would require employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant women. The Act provides an exception when the employer can demonstrate that accommodating the request would provide an undue hardship on the employer. The NWLC report specifically pointed to the success in California, where state law has required employers to provide accommodations to pregnant women since 1999.

If you have been subjected to discrimination by your employer while pregnant, seek the advice of a skilled employment law attorney to ensure your rights are protected.