In 2011, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) received the largest number of complaints of pregnancy discrimination in its history. Pregnancy discrimination has been increasing since at least 1992. Pregnancy discrimination in New Jersey, New York and nationally continues to be a major problem.
It is illegal to discriminate against pregnant mothers. Pregnancy discrimination in New York and New Jersey is barred by law. Employers may not refuse to hire pregnant women, fire pregnant women, or lay employees off because of their pregnancy, harass or transfer them because of their pregnancy, or shift them to work that is perceived as “safer” or “lighter.” The only exception is that transfers can be made as a legitimate accommodation for the specific medical needs of a particular employee.
Employers are permitted to ask the estimated delivery date and expected length of leave before and after delivery, but they are not allowed to ask for a specific date that pregnancy leave will begin. Employers must rehire mothers after delivery, and make reasonable accommodations beforehand.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 likewise prohibits pregnancy discrimination. In 1978, Congress enacted the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII to include pregnancy discrimination as sex discrimination. It also prohibits discrimination based on medical conditions related to pregnancy. It provides that if an employer offers a health plan, pregnancy must be a covered condition. However, the Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act, being part of Title VII, only covers employers with 50 or more employees.