While the number of women in the workforce has steadily increased over the past few decades, protections afforded to pregnant women in the workplace, unfortunately, have not followed suit. Although some safeguards exist to protect women in this situation, many people – including certain members of Congress – agree more action is necessary to ensure pregnant women are treated fairly while on the job.

Across the country, over 4 million women gave birth in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Of those, 62 percent of the American women who had a child were in the labor force while pregnant. In New York alone, over 150,000 women who had a child in 2010 were pregnant while employed – accounting for 61 percent of all the women in New York who gave birth that year.

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978

Currently, pregnant women in the workforce have some protection under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978.

However, prior to 1978, women had little protection in the workplace when they became pregnant. In fact, many employers fired women from their positions specifically because they became pregnant. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 put a stop to that practice.

The Act was passed as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which barred discrimination on the basis of sex. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act bolsters that protection by prohibiting discrimination “because of or on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medication conditions.” The law provides that pregnant women must be “treated the same for all employment-related purposes.”

Although this statute did much for the protection of pregnant women’s jobs across the country, it has not put an end to discrimination against pregnant women. In fact, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has reported that the number of pregnancy discrimination charges have been rising over the past few decades. According to the EEOC, the number of pregnancy discrimination claims reported from 1992 to 2007 in the United States rose by 65 percent.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

As a result, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York and Senator Bob Casey from Pennsylvania championed the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act during the last legislative session.

The bill required employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant women, unless the employer could show that the requested accommodation posed an “undue hardship on the operation of the business.” In addition, it prohibited employers from making an employee take a leave of absence if a reasonable accommodation could be provided to the employee instead.

These protections would prevent employers from refusing to provide light duty positions to pregnant women, among other frequently necessary accommodations during pregnancy.

Unfortunately, the bill was unsuccessful and did not pass the last legislative session. It’s likely, however, that future bills similar to this Act will be brought forth to further protect against pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

Contact an employment law attorney

If you feel you have been discriminated against during a pregnancy or after giving birth, consulting with a skilled New York employment law attorney is advised. Your lawyer can review the facts of your case to ensure your rights were not violated.