Siegal & RichardsonLLP

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Rights of pregnant or breastfeeding women in the workplace

Gender discrimination means that a person is being treated differently based on whether they are male, female or any other gender. For some women, another form of discrimination is also possible – pregnancy discrimination. This can occur at any point in the hiring, employment or termination phase.

Woman have ample protections that should prevent this, but there are times when they are subjected to unacceptable treatment. Taking swift action can help put a stop to it. Sometimes, legal action is required. Any woman who is currently expecting a baby, those who plan on having a baby and anyone who is breastfeeding a newborn should know their rights.

Pregnant woman

Even if a woman is applying for a job, the potential employer can't use her pregnancy as a reason to refuse to hire her. She must be treated the same as every other applicant. While she is working for a company, she is entitled to the same treatment as other employees, including benefits. She can't be passed over for a promotion because she is expecting a baby and she can't be denied a raise because of her current state. She can't be terminated because of the pregnancy.

Employers must make reasonable accommodations to meet the abilities of the woman. As long as she is able to perform her job duties, she must be allowed to continue. If she does have to take time off for medical reasons, she must be allowed to return when her doctor approves. No employer should require that a woman remain off work until the baby is born or for a predetermined amount of time after.

Finally, women who meet the requirement of the programs can receive temporary disability or leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. Employers can't retaliate against these women.

Breastfeeding mothers

When a mother opts to breastfeed her newborn, she has specific rights when she returns to the workplace. These protections are valid for up to one year after the baby's birth. She has to be provided with a space other than a bathroom to pump. That area must be clean, shielded from anyone viewing it and be free from intrusion. A small table and chair must be provided. However, some companies also choose to provide other assistive items like a sink and refrigerator but these assistive items are optional.

Employers must also provide the woman with reasonable time to express breastmilk. This might require some flexibility since every woman is different. Typically, a woman needs to feed or pump every three hours to keep her supply going and reduce the chance of pain and infection that comes with engorgement.

Any woman who experiences discrimination during pregnancy or breastfeeding should assert her rights under the law. While speaking to the employer might help, there are times when additional legal action is necessary.

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