What Does Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace Look Like?

Pregnancy discrimination affects millions of working women each year, with devastating consequences to their careers. But discrimination and harassment on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or other reproductive conditions are illegal under both federal and California law.

Even though it’s illegal, pregnancy discrimination still happens. Sometimes it may be obvious, but in many cases, the unlawful behavior is subtle or covert. You may experience micro-aggressions that add up to a toxic work environment.

This can make it hard to recognize and prove pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. But if you know what to look for, you can spot the signs and find the evidence you need to protect yourself and file a successful claim to recover for your losses.

A lawsuit or legal claim of pregnancy discrimination can get you damages for the impact that this type of illegal workplace behavior has had on your career and mental health.

Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination at Work

What is pregnancy discrimination? The law describes illegal pregnancy discrimination as any negative action by a company against an employee because of a pregnancy, the potential to get pregnant in the future, or any childbirth or reproduction-related conditions.

You can be a victim of pregnancy discrimination even if you’re not actually pregnant. This type of work discrimination is illegal even if your employer acts on false assumptions.

Pregnancy discrimination can take the form of a single act – such as firing or demoting you – or a general environment of unpleasant comments and discriminatory policies. The second is called a hostile work environment, which is also illegal.

What Are Some Common Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination?

  • During an interview, the interviewer comments about your wedding ring, asks whether you’re married, or asks whether you have children or plan to have children in the future. Even though the interview process was going well up until that point, you don’t hear from the company after they find out you’re engaged, married, or a parent. You end up losing out on a lucrative job or employment contract as a result.
  • Even though you’re not legally required to tell your employer that you’re pregnant, you bring it up with your manager after your first trimester as a courtesy. In the weeks after that meeting, you notice that you’re no longer getting the same priority in projects, your clients are getting reassigned to other coworkers, and your performance reviews begin to tank even though your work remains the same. You lose significant shifts, hours, or responsibilities as you near your due date. Shortly before you give birth, you get fired.
  • Shortly before giving birth and in the weeks after, you take your legally-protected pregnancy leave. At the end of your unpaid pregnancy leave period, you return to work – except someone else has taken over your responsibilities. Management refuses to give you back your original position or put you in a comparable spot. You lose seniority, shifts, or work hours as a result. Your employer may even try to cut your salary.
  • While you’re out on pregnancy leave, your supervisor calls to tell you that your position is no longer needed in the company so you’re getting laid off.
  • You tell your employer that you’re pregnant. Normally you stand at your workstation, so you ask if you can get a chair instead. Even though sitting doesn’t affect your ability to do your job, your employer refuses to allow it. In addition, your employer refuses to allow you to move shifts around or take hours off to go to your doctor’s appointments. When pregnant, your company must provide reasonable accommodations for you.
  • Your company posts a job opening for a lab technician position. You apply but get rejected even though you have the necessary credentials and experience. When you track down the hiring manager for feedback, they tell you off the record that management’s policy is to keep women of childbearing age out of the labs because they falsely believe that exposure to the chemicals can harm the pregnancy.
  • You notice over time that your supervisor keeps giving the most complicated projects to your coworkers as well as the additional training, even though you perform just as well as them. You find out that your supervisor has been taking time to mentor your coworkers without making any effort to do so with you. When you bring this up with your supervisor, they say they figured you’d be taking time off to get married and start a family since you were at the age to do so.
  • You find out that your supervisor favored your coworkers over you because they believe your pregnancy distracts you from your work. You file a complaint with HR but never get a follow-up response. The next week, your manager is noticeably colder towards you. Your performance reviews tank and you start losing shifts, even though your work performance doesn’t change. Within a couple of months, you get fired for poor performance.
  • Your company culture is known to put down and punish pregnancy. Your supervisors regularly make comments about employees who chose to have kids and “threw away” the chance for management track as a result. Even though none of the policies are officially written down, HR has a reputation for “looking down” on employees who take pregnancy leave. Pregnant employees get scheduled and pushed out of meetings and projects, getting assigned instead to lower-priority departments or tasks.

Pregnancy discrimination at work is a terrible ordeal to go through. You may not even realize what’s happening until after the fact. Your employer may try to blame you or make you look like a bad employee, which could hurt your chances for future employment. Pregnancy discrimination may affect not just your career and income but your mental health, too.

These are just some common examples of pregnancy discrimination. Some types of discrimination are easier to spot and prove compared to others. A pregnancy discrimination lawyer can help you determine whether or not you have a case. Your attorney can also help you find and gather the evidence you need to win your case and recover for your losses.

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