What is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

Written by kate lee
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The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is an important amendment to the Civil Rights Act that protects pregnant women in most workplaces. It prohibits discrimination in hiring and firing practices and helps many pregnant women receive the same rights and benefits, including health care and time off, granted to other workers with medical conditions.


The Pregnancy Discrimination Act applies to companies that have 15 or more employees, including privately or publicly held companies, employment agencies, trade unions and local or state governments, as well as the federal government. Pregnant women may also be eligible for additional benefits, such as extended maternity or medical leave, under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or state laws, such as California's Paid Family Leave program. These laws complement, rather than replace, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.


The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits companies that are subject to its provisions from refusing to hire a woman because of pregnancy. Employers must also give pregnant women the same work modifications and leave benefits granted to employees with disabilities and may not prohibit them from working as long as they are able to perform their jobs. Employers may not deny pregnant women health insurance or other benefits and cannot charge them extra for these services. Companies must also keep a pregnant woman's job open to her during leave, for the same length of time as other employees on sick leave or disability leave.


The Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed the US Congress in 1978 and became part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Prior to this amendment, employers and even state governments were allowed to deny pregnant women health benefits, as demonstrated by the court cases Geduldig v. Aiello in 1974 and General Electric v. Gilbert in 1976. Employers could also refuse to hire pregnant women, fire them if they became pregnant or deny them benefits and workplace modifications required for other employees.


The National Partnership for Women and Families estimates that there are more than 68 million women in the US workforce. Almost 73 per cent of those women have children under age 18, meaning that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act applies to a significant number of women at some point in their careers. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act can help women obtain and keep their jobs and benefits during a time when it is particularly important for them to support their families.

Expert Insight

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission received 5,587 complaints of pregnancy discrimination in 2007. Women who believe they have been discriminated against because of pregnancy during hiring, while requesting accommodations or leave or in receiving benefits, should first talk to their supervisor and file a report with the human resources department, if available. If the employee and employer cannot resolve the situation on their own, individuals (or organisations) can file charges with the EEOC within 180 days. The EEOC must try to resolve the matter before either party can file lawsuits.

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