The short answer is NO: You cannot be fired for being pregnant under most circumstances. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Pregnancy Discrimination Act both prohibit US employers from terminating employees due to pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions. In addition, Massachusetts law protects workers from pregnancy discrimination via the Act Relative to Parental Leave. Generally, employers cannot treat pregnant women any differently than other workers who have medical conditions that impact their jobs. They must also allow reasonable accommodations as necessary to enable an eligible employee to perform necessary job-related tasks.
However, there are many nuances involved with these laws and other statutes regarding pregnancy discrimination. A Massachusetts employment law attorney can provide details on how these issues relate to your situation, but it is also important to recognize the top 10 rights of pregnant women at work.
- Job Security and Reinstatement: Massachusetts employers must keep your job open when you are out for a pregnancy-related leave of absence, and they must hold your position open at least as long as they would for other employees on disability leave. Plus, you are entitled to any reinstatement rights that other workers enjoy when they are out for medical reasons. For example, if your employer offers paid leave for an employee who is recovering from a heart attack, you deserve the same benefits while you are away from your job due to pregnancy and related medical issues.
- Unpaid Leave Benefits: Under FMLA, you are allowed 12 weeks of leave every year for the birth and care of your newborn child; you are also allowed time off to welcome a child for adoption of foster care. The PLA requires Massachusetts employers with six or more workers to give at least eight weeks for giving birth or placing an adopted child under 18 years old.
Note that neither law specifically requires your employer to pay you for time off; rather, they protect your rights to job security and reinstatement under the same conditions that other workers receive when they take a leave of absence. Therefore, if other employees are paid while away from work, you do qualify for the same benefits.
- Break Up Leave as Necessary: Many pregnant women experience different medical conditions before and after giving birth, and adoptive parents go through various issues as members of the family transition into their new reality. State and federal law recognize that flexibility is necessary, so there are provisions allowing qualifying workers to break up the weeks of leave they are entitled to receive. It is not necessary to take all weeks consecutively, as long as you are otherwise eligible.
- Marriage is NOT a Condition: At both the federal and state level, it is not necessary that you be married in order to take advantage of pregnancy-related leave and benefits. In fact, the Massachusetts statute recognizes different variations on the family dynamic, so the provisions are gender neutral. Fathers are allowed the same rights as mothers when taking leave for the birth or adoption of a child.
- Pump Safely and Securely: Pregnancy discrimination laws require employers to give a nursing mother reasonable break time to express breast milk for up to one year after a child’s birth. The same statutes make it mandatory for employers to provide a place, other than a restroom, that is sheltered from view and relatively private for pumping.
- Stay on the Job: Though many discrimination laws focus on allowing leave as necessary to attend to pregnancy-related medical issues, many women experience the opposite treatment: An employer wants them to take time off to attend to their own health needs and those of the child. However, you cannot be forced to take time off if you are able to perform the routine tasks required of your position. This is true even when your employer thinks he or she is acting in your best interests.
- Abortion and Termination: Under federal and Massachusetts law, it is unlawful for an employer to fire you for choosing abortion. In fact, you are entitled to receive benefits for physical or mental disability related to an abortion to the same extent that your employer offers these benefits to other workers. Once again, employers are not required to provide benefits; they are only required to apply such policies to all employees in the same way.
- Discrimination is Actionable: If you believe you have been discriminated against on account of a pregnancy-related condition, you do have rights. You can file a discrimination claim with either the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination or the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. It is not necessary to file with both agencies, since they share responsibility in processing claims. You may be entitled to recover compensation in the form of back pay, and can even request reinstatement as a legal remedy.
- Pre-Maternity Leave Rights: It may be necessary to be away from your job before the baby is born, and the law protects your rights during this time. Pre-maternity leave is subject to the same rules as other absences related to pregnancy.
- Benefits Extend to All Employees: If there is one takeaway related to pregnancy discrimination, it is that an eligible employee is entitled to the same benefits that other employees with medical conditions enjoy. Employers may not be required to pay for maternity leave or offer other pregnancy-related benefits, but they must apply consistent policies with respect to all workers.
In all, the United States as well as the state of Massachusetts have taken numerous steps to provide working, pregnant individuals. Thanks to these laws, employees can confidently focus on what is best for their health, the health of the child, and the overall well-being of their family; individuals to which these laws apply should take full advantage of these rights as needed without concern of negative repercussions. Whether they need accommodations, time away from work, or any other number of protected rights they can approach their employer without risk. However, if for any reason an employee believes that their employer has violated any of the laws or withheld any of the rights to which they are entitled, they should contact an employment lawyer to advocate on their behalf.
Read our quick guide on FMLA.
Pregnancy in the Workplace Resources
Schedule a Consultation with a Massachusetts Pregnancy Discrimination Lawyer
These 10 points regarding the rights of pregnant women at work may be useful, but this general overview does not cover all situations involving discriminatory acts. Employers engage in many types of misconduct, either through intentional acts or mistake.
If you have questions or would like to know more about your rights under federal and Massachusetts pregnancy discrimination laws, please contact the Boston-based litigation law firm of Rodman Employment Law at 617.820.5250. We can schedule a consultation to discuss your circumstances and tell you more about your legal remedies.