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Something about Work and Pregnancy

Protection provided by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act Fortunately, a U.S. federal law called the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) prevents covered employers from treating women differently just because they're pregnant. This means covered employers can't:

• fire a woman because she's pregnant or intends to become pregnant

• demote a woman or compensate her differently because she's pregnant or intends to become pregnant, or

• refuse to hire a woman because she's pregnant or intends to become pregnant.

The PDA also prohibits covered employers from treating pregnant women differently in the terms and conditions of employment — that is, pay, benefits, training, harassment, and so on.

In addition, many states have similar laws that prohibit discrimination against pregnant women.

How do you know if your employer is covered by these laws? The federal law covers employers with 15 or more employees, so if you work for an employer with more than a handful of employees, you're likely protected under the federal law, no matter which state you live in.

The state laws usually cover smaller employers, so even if you work for a very small company — one with, say, only five employees — you may be covered by your state's law, even if you aren't covered by the federal law. Contact your state department of labor or fair employment office to find out about the law in your state.

How to recognize illegal treatment?

It can sometimes be difficult to understand when your employer's actions are actually illegal. The PDA and similar state laws only prohibit employers from making employment decisions because of pregnancy or because of an intention to become pregnant. When there are legitimate reasons for what your employer is doing — for example, not giving you a raise because your productivity has dropped since you became pregnant — then it's perfectly legal. The laws don't guarantee special treatment for pregnant employees, only equal treatment.

So if something is happening at work that feels wrong to you, ask yourself whether it's because of your pregnancy or your intention to become pregnant, or for some other reason. If you decide it's because you're pregnant or intending to become pregnant, then take action.

What to do about unfair treatment?

If it feels like you're being treated unfairly, the first step is to talk to someone at work whom you trust — perhaps your supervisor, the office manager, or someone in human resources. It might be that a simple conversation can fix the problem.

If that doesn't work, consult your employee handbook. If there's a procedure for employees to follow to complain about discrimination (usually, companies have employees go to the human resources department), then follow it.

If talking to people within your company doesn't solve the problem, then contact your local office of the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Someone there can tell you whether your employer is covered by the PDA and whether you have a legitimate complaint. That person can also refer you to your state's fair employment office if your state has a law regarding pregnancy discrimination.

If your local EEOC office isn't helpful, try contacting an attorney who specializes in employment law issues.

No matter what action you end up taking, it's important to keep a record of everything that happens to you and everything you do to try to solve the problem. For example, keep copies of e-mails that you send about the problem and keep a diary of events as they unfold. This record may end up serving as evidence of what happened to you.

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