Maternity Leave

Thousands of women who are pregnant or new mothers file charges every year with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This is the federal agency that protects you from job discrimination.

What the Law Says

Federal and state laws make sure that Americans are able to have children without losing their jobs. Discrimination against you because you are pregnant violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Under this law, employers who have at least 15 workers are not allowed to:

  1. Refuse to hire a woman because of pregnancy; or
  2. Fire or force a worker to leave because she's pregnant; or
  3. Take away credit for previous years, accrued retirement benefits, or seniority because of maternity leave; or
  4. Fire or refuse to hire a woman because she has an abortion.

You must be allowed to keep working as long as you are able to do your job. Your boss cannot make a rule about how long you must stay out of work before or after childbirth. If your company does not offer sick leave, then it may be discriminating against pregnant workers.

Your employer must treat you at least as well as he/she treats other workers who can't do their jobs for a short time. For example, if your company lets a worker go on paid or unpaid disability leave due to a heart attack or broken leg, you must also have this right if you are unable to work because of pregnancy or childbirth. If your pregnancy stops you from being able to do your job, you have the right to be given easier duties, if other workers who can't do their jobs for a short time get this right.

Many states have equal employment opportunity laws that protect against pregnancy discrimination. In addition, the states of California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico also pay partial wages during time off from work for medical problems, including those of pregnancy. Find out if your state has this law, which is called "temporary disability insurance." Some employers, especially larger companies, also offer this type of insurance. Check your benefits.

How much time can you have off?

A new law, the Family and Medical Leave Act, gives you added protection. It went into effect on August 5, 1993. If your doctor or health care provider says you are sick and unable to work during your pregnancy, you may be able to get up to 12 weeks off without pay under this new law. You also are allowed time off for childbirth, adoption, and to care for a sick child or family member. If you take time off under this law, you have the right to the same job or a job with equal pay and benefits when you come back to work.

Some states have their own family leave laws that protect your right to return to your job after time off for pregnancy-related problems or childbirth.

For ideas on what to do if you are discriminated against, see the section entitled "What You Can Do If You Are Discriminated Against."

Reprinted with permission from "Pregnancy Discrimination"; US Department of Labor Women's Bureau "Know Your Rights" brochure series.

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