Tips to recognize pregnancy discrimination at work

Tips to recognize pregnancy discrimination at work

Renske Gosselink

Pregnancy is an exciting time, but as you may have experienced discrimination still comes in many forms, from losing opportunities to losing your job. This discrimination may even appear to be benevolent, with your boss thinking they are helping you by limiting your travel or stress. Knowing your rights will help you recognize discrimination and respond effectively before going out of the office on leave.

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  1. You cannot be fired for being pregnant, but you can be fired while you are pregnant. The days of employers explicitly telling pregnant employees that they are fired because of their pregnancy are (mostly) gone. However, employers may give pregnant employees other reasons for their termination, like citing performance issues or deciding to reorganize the company or the pregnant employee’s department. Not all terminations are illegal, but employers need to have a legitimate business reason that is not a pretext for pregnancy discrimination. 
  2. Ask for reasonable accommodations, if necessary. Coming in late because of morning sickness? Unable to commute easily because of back pains? Your doctor ordered you off your feet? You may want to suggest some reasonable accommodations to your boss, such as shifting work hours or working remotely, before your work performance becomes an issue. In New York City, employers with 4 or more employees are required to engage in an interactive process with employees. This means your employer does not have to agree to your suggestions, but they have to entertain them and explain why it would be an undue burden for them to comply.
  3. Know the ins and outs of your job duties. Knowing the “essential functions” of your job will help make it easier for your co-workers while you are on leave, and could protect you if you are being discriminated against. Most importantly, before asking for a reasonable accommodation, you will want to be clear on what the essential functions of your job are. It’s likely that you are doing tasks at work which are outside of your job description- assuming you have one! Early in your pregnancy is a good time to take stock of all the things you do at work, and ensure that your tasks are clear to you, and to Human Resources or your boss, so you are not penalized for failing to perform tasks which are outside your essential job functions.
  4. Keep track of all the great things you do, and anything potentially discriminatory that happens at work. Facts matter.  Too often, pregnant women find themselves with “performance problems,” when they are used to being high performers. Sometimes the performance issues may be real, other times, the “issues” could be masking discrimination. Keep track of emails (while following your employers’ rules regarding email use and forwarding), or other praise you receive for your performance before and during your pregnancy. If your supervisor starts to set impossible to meet deadlines, or criticizes you for things you had previously been praised for doing, take notes.

Hopefully these tips will help relieve stress, allowing you to enjoy this special time!


Pregnancy Project: Berke-Weiss Law PLLC, a New York City employment law firm, created the Pregnancy Project to inform and empower pregnant women to negotiate effectively for their workplace and health insurance rights.  The Pregnancy Project 90-minute seminar, offered at various locations in New York City and online, covers key questions and provides useful tips for addressing questions we frequently see in our practice. Check out our upcoming classes. If you find yourself being discriminated against at work, you can contact Berke-Weiss Law PLLC for a paid consultation. Berke-Weiss Law PLLC can provide clients with advice and counsel on a limited basis, without engaging with their employer. It may be worthwhile for you to invest in legal advice to keep your job or negotiate an exit.


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