What Is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

Everything you need to know about the law that protects you from pregnancy discrimination.
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The Pregnancy Discrimination Act is a 35-year old federal law that was passed as an amendment to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The PDA essentially says that discrimination against pregnancy is sex discrimination, and makes it illegal to discriminate against employees because of "pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions."

The law also requires that employers (in companies with 15 or more employees) treat pregnant women in the same way that they'd treat any employee who had a condition that similarly affected her ability to work.

And, not to get all Ron Burgundy here, but its passage was kind of a big deal. It marked the end of an era in which it was legal to summarily fire a woman because her pregnancy began to show, or to demand that she stay (unpaid) out of work after giving birth until a date chosen by her employer, or to exclude pregnancy from the conditions covered by disability benefits. (These things all really happened before the law was passed. And, sadly, some of them still happen -- just not legally.)

Flash forward to today, and it's still a big deal. The PDA says, in essence, "that you can't treat a woman who is pregnant any differently than you would treat any other employee," says employment law attorney Sandy Girifalco, who is a partner at Stradley Ronon Attorneys at Law.

Happily, the PDA is much less singular than it was in 1978. The PDA applies throughout the country. But, Girifalco says, it's not the only pregnancy discrimination law that applies to most women, because many -- if not most -- states have enacted their own versions of the law. These state bills may apply to smaller businesses, or afford even more protection to pregnant women, but they cannot take away from the protections in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

To learn more about the laws in your state, contact your state's Department of Labor.

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