The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is a federal law which makes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth and related medical conditions a form of gender discrimination prohibited under Title VII. Being part of Title VII, the PDA only applies to employers who employed 15 or more employees in the year of, or preceding, the discriminatory act. Title VII’s statute of limitations and damages provisions apply to claims brought under the PDA.
Conduct Prohibited Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act essentially prohibits an employer from treating a pregnant employee less favorably than it would other employees. If an employer provides light duty work or temporary leave for employees who suffer from a temporary disability, it must provide the same to a pregnant employee (if her pregnancy renders her temporarily unable to perform her job normally). If the pregnant employee suffers from a severe complication which rises to the level of a medical impairment, she may also be entitled to accommodations and other relief (even if the employer does not give these to non-pregnant employees) under the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits employers from refusing to hire a woman because of her pregnancy, because of a pregnancy-related condition, or because of the prejudices of co-workers, clients, or customers — as long as she is fully capable of performing the material duties of the job at issue. If it is an employer’s usual practice to hold employees’ jobs open when they must take temporary leave due to injury or illness, it must hold open a pregnant employee’s position for a similar length of time when she leaves to give birth (or needs temporary leave for a pregnancy-related issue).
An employer may not mandate that a pregnant employee remain out of work for a specific period of time after giving birth. Also, if an employee takes temporary leave due to a pregnancy complication and recovers, the employer cannot require that the employee stay out of work until after the birth.
Employers may not require that pregnant employees be medically cleared to work if they do not require the same type of medical clearance for non-pregnant employees. Pregnant employees may not be prohibited by their employers from performing certain jobs that may pose a risk to the health of the fetus, such as those involving chemical exposure or other environmental risks — nevertheless, many employers still have such “fetal protection” policies, even though they violate the PDA.
What the Pregnancy Discrimination Act Does Not Do
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not require that employers give pregnant employees special treatment or accommodation that it does not offer to other, non-pregnant employees. It does not prevent an employer from taking adverse employment action against a pregnant employee who isn’t capable of performing the material duties of her job. The PDA does not require that pregnant employees be given light duty if the employer doesn’t provide light duty work to other employees with a temporary disability. It doesn’t require employers to spare a pregnant employee from being exposed to environmental or other hazards if it would not spare non-pregnant employees with a similar sensitivity from such conditions.
The crux of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act is that employers must not treat pregnant employees any worse than they would treat non-pregnant employees. It does not require that employers treat pregnant employees better than non-pregnant employees.