Combating Pregnancy Discrimination in the Hiring Process

Three-fourths of American women will carry a pregnancy at least once while employed, according to a recent study. With as many as 64% of Americans looking for or considering a new job, it’s reasonable to assume many women will go through the application and hiring process while pregnant. 

One concern of expectant mothers is that hiring managers will be biased against them, even if they’re the most qualified candidate. You may think “Who wants to hire someone that’s going to need 3-4 months off within the first year of their employment?

While this is a common worry, pregnancy discrimination is illegal. If you’re trying to conceive or are pregnant while seeking employment, it’s essential to know your rights and look for the following signs of discrimination. Use the following guide to empower you on your career journey.

Understand the Protections for Pregnant Women

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Over the years, two additional amendments strengthened the legislation.

First, in 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) amendment required employers to treat pregnancy using the same rules applied to other short-term disability cases. 

Then, in 1993, with the passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), new parents became eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new child. To qualify, an employee had to work for the employer for 12 months. This rule applies to businesses with 50 employees or more.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces these laws. Most states have additional rules to combat pregnancy discrimination in hiring and the workplace.

Recognizing Pregnancy Discrimination

The PDA not only protects pregnant women, but recent mothers as well. It also covers discrimination based on medical conditions caused by pregnancy or childbirth. 

It’s important that you know what discrimination can look like during the application, hiring, and onboarding stage of a new job. One nerve-wracking aspect of job searching might be telling your new employer that you’re pregnant once hired (another phase when discrimination can occur).

To further your understanding, here are a few examples of pregnancy discrimination:

Refusing to hire pregnant applicants 

If a candidate can perform their job, an employer cannot refuse to hire a woman because of pregnancy. It’s also against the law to ask a candidate about her childbearing plans. So do not feel like you need to answer any questions related to family planning during the recruitment process. However, employers may ask when and how often a candidate is available to work.

Failing to modify duties

Pregnancy is not a disability. But according to the law, employers must apply the same rules to pregnant workers as employees who are temporarily disabled. A pregnant employee may need to modify her job, for example, sitting rather than standing. Employers are required to make the same accommodations they would for any other employee with a short-term disability. So don’t worry if an aspect of the job may become difficult later in your pregnancy. 

Withholding maternity leave 

If a company allows an injured employee to take disability leave or unpaid leave, it must do the same for a pregnant employee. After a pregnancy-related absence, employers must hold open a job for the same amount of time they are held open for employees on disability leave. In other words, you can’t be fired after coming back from your maternity leave (without other due cause). 

Offering inadequate health coverage 

Making sure you have the right health insurance when starting a new job while pregnant can be stressful. While you don’t want to disclose that you’re pregnant, you also want to ensure you have adequate coverage. 

Employers must provide health insurance coverage for pregnancy-related conditions in the same manner as other medical expenses. The Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, prohibits insurers from declining to cover pregnancy as a pre-existing condition. 

Regardless of your policy, it’s crucial to do your research. As HealthMarkets explains, “Maternity care is an essential health benefit, and all qualified health plans must cover it, even if you are pregnant before your coverage takes effect.” They recommend checking the Summary of Benefits and Coverage Page which will detail costs of pregnancy both before and after birth. While in the offer phase of a job, ask to view documentation for a company’s health plans and ask if they have any type of waiting period before coverage takes effect. 

Firing you for being pregnant 

The PDA prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy for any aspect of employment, including termination. So you cannot be fired based on the fact that you’re pregnant, there must be some other valid reason.

FAQs About Job Hunting While Pregnant

Don’t get discouraged by some of the challenges the job search might pose. Here are frequently asked questions about launching a successful job hunt while pregnant.

Do I have to tell potential employers I’m pregnant?

There is no legal obligation to tell potential employers you’re pregnant. Moreover, candidates in their first trimester generally keep this information to themselves.

Okay, I know I don’t have to disclose, but should I?

It depends. If it’s early in the pregnancy and you’re not showing, you could wait until you’re a final candidate or receive an offer. If you’re in your second or third trimester and visibly pregnant, it might be obvious when you come in for an interview. Just remember that you’re under no obligation to discuss this during the interview process. 

How should I facilitate a conversation with my potential employer, should I choose to disclose? 

When the time is right, it helps to have a plan to disclose your pregnancy with an employer. If you disclose while interviewing, mention that you’ll manage your projects, so your leave will cause minimal impact. Emphasize that you’re committed to the job and intend to return after the maternity leave.

Moreover, don’t stress out too much. Remember that companies want to hire you for the long haul, and make an investment in your future with their organization. A supportive employer with the right mindset won’t see a few months leave as an insurmountable issue. 

Can I take maternity leave immediately after starting a job?

This depends on your employment situation. Under the FMLA, you’re not eligible for leave until 12 months of employment. However, many companies have individual maternity policies, so speak to the HR team to understand those. 

Additionally, employers must treat pregnancy like any other disability. So if other employees are allowed to return after a short-term disability, you would be as well. You’re entitled to the time off your doctor advises for recovery. (Typically 6-8 weeks depending on your birth.) 

How can I assess how supportive a company is of working parents? 

For parents, the definition of a good job includes a family-friendly culture. Here are a few clues that indicate a company with a good work-life balance.

  • Look for family-friendly words: If the company description or job post mentions words like “family-friendly,” “work-life balance,” or “flexibility,” that’s a good sign.
  • Check the benefits: See if the ad mentions childcare, comprehensive insurance coverage, help with adoption, or other family-related benefits.
  • Note the responsibilities: Pay attention to the percent of travel required and if long hours or weekend work is mentioned.
  • Be observant in interviews: Ask questions about a typical workday. Do they have flexible work schedules that include remote work? You can also ask about the work culture and current employees to get a sense if other parents enjoy working there. 

Overcoming Pregnancy Discrimination While Job Hunting

Even though it’s illegal, pregnancy discrimination is, unfortuantely, still prevalent. From 2016 to 2020, there was a 67% increase in discrimination cases filed in federal court. 

Conducting a job search while pregnant might not be ideal timing, but many women have successfully done so. Try to start early in your pregnancy, when possible. Become informed on your rights so you can confidently navigate the job search. Look for a family-friendly company. Most importantly, don’t worry! Not only is stress bad for an expectant mother, but you’re protected under the law and should be treated with respect and courtesy throughout this process. 

Happy job hunting and family planning!  

Tracy Ring is a freelance writer and content marketer. She brings a real-life perspective to her writing from 10+ years of diverse experience, including HR, project management, customer and client relations, and admin roles. Connect with her on LinkedIn or Twitter