Even though women have been in the workforce for decades, there are still some employers who view worker pregnancy as a major business disruption.
Unfortunately, these situations can lead to major stress for pregnant employees who suddenly find themselves under the microscope at work. Some women may even fear that they may lose their jobs and their health benefits when they need them most. However, it’s important to know that there are legal remedies for women who are being subjected to unfair treatment because of pregnancy. Let’s take a look at a recent pregnancy discrimination case and then talk about what it means to expectant moms in the workforce.
Limit on Bathroom Breaks
A female staffer had a history of positive employment reviews at the restaurant where she worked. Her supervisor even told her that she had the potential to “move up” in the store at some point.
However, she says all of that changed after she told her boss she was pregnant.
She states that her supervisor began restricting her access to water so she wouldn’t require so many restroom breaks. She was told to notify all coworkers when she needed to use the restroom, and that she wasn’t allowed to take a restroom break until her manager personally approved the request and came over to cover her work station.
The woman says that her manager repeatedly delayed allowing her to use the restroom, even when she told him she had an urgent need to do so.
Upon returning from the restroom, the woman reports that her manager would frequently yell at her in front of other employees and customers, and would question her about what took her so long.
No other employees were required to seek management approval before taking bathroom breaks. Similarly, no other employees were questioned about the length of their restroom visits.
Different Rules for Pregnant Employees
Employees at the woman's work location were generally allowed certain flexibility to leave work early to attend doctor’s appointments. Sometimes people only gave several hours’ notice.
However, after the staffer announced her pregnancy, she states that she was held to a different standard.
Her boss refused to respond to a request to leave work early for a doctor’s appointment, even though she gave several days’ notice. Over the next few days, the woman says she repeatedly asked for approval the appointment but those requests were ignored.
On the day of the appointment, she again reminded her supervisor that she needed to leave early. He told her that she had to finish her shift and that she would suffer consequences if she left early.
The woman left and attended her appointment anyway. While there, she got a doctor’s note stating that she needed regular access to water and to the restroom while at work.
However, the next day when she arrived for work, her supervisor told her not to punch in. He brought her to the restaurant lobby, where he fired her in front of her coworkers.
She spoke with an attorney and sued for pregnancy discrimination.
A jury awarded the woman
$550,000 in compensatory and punitive damages.
What Pregnant Employees Need to Know
Pregnancy discrimination can come in many forms. Denying pregnant workers accommodations that would normally be granted to other employees, such as using the restroom when necessary, is generally unlawful.
In addition, women may not be terminated, demoted, or subjected to any other adverse employment actions due to pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions.
There are several federal, state, and even municipal laws that may apply to pregnant workers. If you feel that you’ve been discriminated against because of pregnancy, it’s wise to speak with an attorney who has a strong track record of fighting for women’s rights.