Women face levels of workplace harassment and employment abuses that most men simply don’t understand. Even basic concepts like “equal pay for equal work” are routinely violated by employers. Sexual harassment, the glass ceiling, discriminatory dress codes and other practices serve to hold women back from equal participation in the workforce. A recent case highlighted another form of discrimination that some female employees are forced to reckon with: pregnancy discrimination.
Nearly 40 years ago, Congress amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act Of 1964 to make it clear that pregnancy discrimination is a form of sex discrimination. Despite decades to get their houses in order, employers are still violating the rights of female workers who become pregnant. A job applicant recently saw her job offer rescinded when the employer discovered she was pregnant. The company’s stated reason for withdrawing the offer was that it wanted someone in the position “long term.” Such a blatant violation of the law should be shocking, but for many women it is just par for the course.
The legal treatment of pregnancy
The law treats pregnancy as a temporary disability. Employers are not allowed to penalize pregnant employees. They are not allowed to discriminate against them in hiring, promotion or salary decisions. They are not allowed to push archaic notions of a “woman’s role” onto female employees, including those who are or become pregnant during the course of their employment. When employers discriminate on the basis of pregnancy, the employee can seek remedies including back pay, reinstatement, front pay, compensatory damages and in some cases punitive damages.
Many people familiar with the law in other countries consider U.S. laws concerning pregnancy, childbirth and parenting to be sadly outdated and punitive to those who dare to have families. It is sad when employers can’t even be bothered to live up to the minimal requirements expected of them.