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Have questions about workplace protections for mothers?


The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is receiving a record number of claims alleging pregnancy discrimination. Between the rise in claims and recent media reports on the issue, many people have begun asking questions about the law on pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

We have answered some of those common questions below.

What is pregnancy discrimination?

Pregnancy discrimination includes more than firing an expecting parent. Taking any adverse employment action against mothers, based on their status as mothers, is a violation of New York state and federal employment regulations. These adverse actions include failing to promote mothers, failing to pay pregnant women or mothers the same as other employees or creating a hostile workplace through comments, "jokes" or other behavior.

What laws protect mothers in the workplace?

Both state and federal law prohibit discriminating against workers who are pregnant, have been pregnant or are considering starting families. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a federal law, governs all employers nationwide with 15 or more employees. In addition, New York has enacted the New York State Human Rights Law. While it offers similar protection to the PDA, it protects a greater number of employees.

In addition to prohibiting discrimination, under the law pregnant workers can get reasonable accommodations due to their pregnancy, such as water breaks or restrictions from heavy lifting.

How common is pregnancy discrimination?

Research indicates pregnancy discrimination may be more common than typically thought. For example, a large study in the American Journal of Sociology found that nationwide, mothers with the same qualifications were offered $11,000 less for the same job as women without children. A recent New York Times article included several anecdotal stories of mothers who are alleging pregnancy discrimination, along with first-hand experiences of how widespread it is in the workplace.

What options are available to people who have experienced pregnancy discrimination?

Employees who believe they have experienced pregnancy discrimination have several options. The first is to report their concerns to HR. The law prohibits employers from retaliating against a worker who brings such a claim.

Employees can also file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC conducts investigations into employers accused of workplace discrimination. Employees also have the option of filing a lawsuit against their employer, which can result in a settlement. If no settlement can be reached, the lawsuit will go to trial.

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