Pregnancy discrimination protection for federal government employees

Employees of the federal government are protected by law from discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. A federal statute called the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978 as an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This law established that discriminating against workers on the basis of pregnancy or childbirth in employment-related decisions constitutes illegal gender discrimination. The law also protects employees from discrimination on the basis of medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth.

Public and private employers affected

Unlike some antidiscrimination measures, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects state, local and federal government employees as well as those who work for private companies with 15 or more employees.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act provides that employers must treat pregnant women in the same manner as other employees or applicants with similar limitations and abilities. As a baseline matter, this means that employers are prohibited from making hiring and firing decisions based on an individual's pregnancy or related medical condition. However, the legal protections for pregnant women extend well beyond protection from wrongful termination of employment.

Time off and other accommodations

If an employee is temporarily unable to perform her usual job duties as a result of pregnancy or a related condition, her employer is required to treat her in the same manner it treats other temporarily disabled workers. This means that the employer may be required to provide the pregnant worker with alternative, light-duty assignments or offer her paid or unpaid leave, depending on how it treats employees who are temporarily disabled for other reasons, such as injury or illness.

Similarly, an employer may not use different methods to determine a pregnant employee's ability or inability to work than are used for any other employee. For instance, employers may not require a doctor's note before granting sick leave or benefits to a pregnant employee unless such documentation is required for all workers requesting leave or sick time.

In addition, employers must allow pregnant employees to work as long as they are able to continue performing their jobs. It is illegal for employers to prohibit an employee from returning to work for a predetermined period of time after childbirth. Furthermore, when a worker is on leave for pregnancy-related reasons, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires that her employer must hold her position open for the same length of time that it would be for an employee who was on sick or disability leave.

Health insurance and fringe benefits

If an employer provides health insurance to its employees, pregnancy-related expenses generally must be covered in the same manner as other medical conditions. When employers offer specific pregnancy-related fringe benefits, they must be available to all pregnant workers regardless of marital status.

Likewise, if benefits are provided to workers on sick or disability leave, the same benefits must be available to employees who are on leave for pregnancy-related reasons. Pregnant workers on leave must also be treated the same as workers with other temporary disabilities for purposes of accruing seniority, vacation time, pay increases and other benefits.

Contact an attorney if you have experienced discrimination

Federal government employees who believe they have been affected by illegal pregnancy discrimination in the workplace should speak with an experienced employment lawyer about their concerns. An attorney with experience representing federal government workers in employment discrimination claims can help them assess the situation and evaluate their options for moving forward.