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The Pregnancy Discrimination Act: A Critical Step Towards Women’s Equality

October 30, 2020 | By Jeramy Gordon

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“It is illegal to discriminate on the basis of pregnancy or gender. It is not illegal to talk about it.”

— Sheryl Sandberg

Back in July, we celebrated 30 years of comprehensive equality for people with disabilities, reached by the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Intertwined with this law is another closely related initiative enacted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA).

Since 1978, this act put forth by the EEOC has been critical in expanding protections for pregnant women, ensuring they are treated fairly and equally by employers. The PDA “forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to any aspect of employment, including hiring, firing, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoff, training, fringe benefits, such as leave and health insurance, and any other term or condition of employment.” 

Since the PDA’s passage, more women have been able to continue working while pregnant; they have also been able to work further into their pregnancies without being forced to leave their jobs. It is broad protection with a few important nuances to highlight:

Pregnancy Discrimination & Temporary Disability

Closely tied to the protections granted under the ADA, the PDA essentially provides the same protections to pregnant women that had been previously provided to disabled individuals. It ensures that impairments resulting from pregnancy such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia, are treated as disabilities.

Additionally, 2008 also saw expanded protections for disability; notably, the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 made it more seamless and transparent to show that a medical condition is a covered disability, providing even more vital rights to pregnant women and disabled individuals.

Pregnancy Discrimination & Harassment

The PDA also requires employers to provide a work environment free of harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, and failure to do so violates the statute.

Liability can result from the conduct of a supervisor, co-workers, or non-employees such as customers or business partners over whom the employer has some control; examples of pregnancy-based harassment include unwelcome and offensive jokes or name-calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule, insults, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance motivated by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions such as breastfeeding.

The PDA ensures none of these actions are allowed, giving pregnant women the freedom to avoid any form of harassment within the workplace.

Pregnancy, Maternity & Parental Leave

The next section of the EEOC’s PDA essentially ensures pregnant women are not singled out for their ability to work, regardless of pregnancy-related conditions. Under the PDA, an employer that allows temporarily disabled employees to take disability leave or leave without pay must allow an employee who is temporarily disabled due to pregnancy to do the same.

Alongside the closely related Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), this critical section also ensures expectant mothers are eligible for 12 weeks’ maternity leave, for the opportunity to bond with their newborn child.

Each of these sections of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act works together to guarantee all expectant mothers have equal protection under the law and the opportunity to be treated fairly by employers.

While the 1978 PDA was a major milestone, there is still work to be done to broaden protections for pregnant women. Between 2010 and 2015, the EEOC reported that nearly 31,000 pregnancy discrimination charges were filed.

While the PDA made huge strides for pregnant women in the workforce, challenges and discrimination still face people across the country. At Accurate, we fully stand behind expecting mothers and support the continued pursuit of equal treatment for all within the workplace.

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