Your Workplace Rights

The first step toward fairness: know your rights. Here's a handy guide to the laws concerning working while pregnant, maternity and paternity leave, and more.

Workplace Rights During Pregnancy

Whether you're a working parent or a working parent-to-be, you deserve to be treated fairly by your employer. As a start, print out this guide to your legal rights and keep it for easy reference.

1. Your pregnancy must be treated like any other employee disability or medical condition.

If you work for a company with 15 or more employees, it is illegal for your employer to discriminate against you because of pregnancy, childbirth, or pregnancy-related conditions. Pregnancy must be treated as a temporary medical disability. You may also be protected by state and local laws regarding pregnancy discrimination.

2. You can't be fired because you're pregnant or may become pregnant.

An employer can't fire, deny a job, or deny a promotion to a woman because of her pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions as long as she can perform the major functions of her job. Note: An employer is not legally required to make it easier for a pregnant woman to do her job.

3. You can't be forced to take leave as long as you can do your job.

Pregnant employees cannot be forced to take leave while they are pregnant as long as they can perform their assigned work tasks. If an employee is absent from work due to a pregnancy-related condition and she recovers, the employer can't force her to remain on leave until the baby's birth.

4. You're entitled to the same benefits received by other employees with medical conditions.

You must be offered the same level of medical benefits, leave, and temporary disability insurance that are provided to employees who have other medical conditions or disabilities.

5. You can take part of your maternity leave before your baby is born.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, you can part of your unpaid maternity leave while still pregnant if you are physically unable to work due to pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions. Your job will be protected for a total of 12 weeks, including time before and after birth. Note: The FMLA applies if:

  • You are an employee of a company with 50 or more employees.
    or
  • Work for a local, state, or federal government.

    and

  • Have worked for your employer for one year and at least 1,250 hours during the previous year.

6. You are entitled to insurance coverage for your wife's pregnancy-related conditions if your company's health plan includes spousal coverage.

Employers cannot deny coverage for the pregnancy care of a male employee's spouse, provided that spouses of female employees are usually covered by comprehensive health insurance.

7. You cannot be denied the standard benefits if you are a single mother-to-be.

Pregnancy-related benefits cannot be limited to married employees.

Workplace Rights After Pregnancy

1. Your job will be protected for up to 12 weeks.

The FMLA allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from your job every year to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child, to care for a seriously ill family member or to recover from your own serious health condition. 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. You may also be covered by a more generous local or state law, so be sure to check. Note: The FMLA applies to you if you work for a company with 50 or more employees, or a state, local, or federal government, and have worked for your employer for one year and at least 1,250 hours during the previous year.

2. As a father, you are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

Under FMLA, fathers are entitled to unpaid paternity leave. You and your spouse can take the leave at the same time, you can overlap your leaves, or you can take them at different times, as long as both leaves are completed with one year of your child's birth.

3. As an adoptive parent, you are entitled to up to 12 weeks unpaid leave.

This typically begins when you first take actual custody of the child. But if necessary, your employer is also required to give you unpaid leave beforehand if you need to take care of things that are required for the adoption to proceed.

4. You need not take all 12 weeks of leave consecutively.

If your employer agrees, you may take leave a few weeks at a time, though once you've physically recovered from birth, you must complete non-medical maternity/paternity leave within a year of your child's birth.

5. Breastfeeding is not covered under federal law, but some states do protect a mother's right to breastfeed at job sites and other public places.

Check out the La Leche Leagues web site, www.lalecheleague.org, which has a state-by-state rundown of current breast-feeding legislation.

Related Links:

What If You Think Your Rights are Being Violated?

1. Make a record.

Write down a description of the situation, including the date, time and place of any specific incidents or conversations. Include what was said and who was there. Try to record your recollections as soon after the incident as you can.

2. Ask around.

As discreetly as possible, talk to coworkers about how they've been treated during or after a recent pregnancy. See if they have any suggestions for workable solutions to your problem.

3. Talk it out.

Discuss the situation with your employer. Your company might have an equal employment officer or an established procedure for dealing with complaints like yours. Check your employee handbook for procedures.

4. Find out more.

If you think you may want to file a formal discrimination complaint against your employer, contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's nearest office (to find out where it is, call the EEOC at 1-800-669-4000). You should also look in the government pages of the phone book to find local employment practices offices that may be able to offer help and advice.

Where To Go for More Info

1. National Partnership for Women & Families

202-986-2600; www.nationalpartnership.org

2. Women's Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor

1-800-827-5335; www.dol.gov/dol/wb/

3. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

202-275-7377; www.eeoc.gov

1-800-959-FMLA.

1-800-959-FMLA.

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