Pregnancy/ Pregnancy Loss
Staying healthy at work while you are pregnant is sometimes challenging: you may be dealing with morning sickness, back pain, or doctor’s appointments every few weeks. For women who have suffered a miscarriage, you may have need to take time off for recovery. U.S., Washington, and local laws can help you stay healthy at work, give you time off when you need it, and protect you from pregnancy discrimination.
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act makes it illegal for any employer in the U.S. with 15 or more workers to treat employees unfairly because they are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or have experienced a pregnancy loss. That means:
- Your boss can’t fire you or cut your hours when she finds out that you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant—you have the right to keep working as long as you can still do your job. You also have the right to be free from harassment at work because you are pregnant.
- You cannot be asked about your pregnancy or plans to have children in a job interview.
- Your employer can’t treat you differently from other workers just because you are pregnant or have had a miscarriage. The Supreme Court just decided a case where they clarified what this means. The Court said that employers may not put a “significant burden” on pregnant employees. How do you know what’s a significant burden? Start looking around at how your employer treats other non-pregnant employees who have needed an accommodation at work. For example, does your employer have a policy of giving light duty only to those with on-the-job injuries? Or did they have no problem helping out folks with non-pregnancy related disabilities, but sent all the pregnant women out onto unpaid leave? If so, this could be evidence of pregnancy discrimination. Since we are still waiting for further clarification of how this standard works, it’s best to collect all the evidence you can (policies, employee handbooks or manuals, digging around to find out how others have been treated) and to discuss your particular situation with an attorney.
- The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) also bans pregnancy discrimination, and covers employers with 8 or more employees. All workers except for domestic workers are covered. Regulations clarify that an employer also may not discriminate against a women based on her potential to become pregnant, or base employment decisions or actions on negative assumptions about pregnant women.
If you need changes at work to stay healthy on the job, the laws below can help. In addition, click the green button to learn how to talk with your boss about your pregnancy and request an accommodation if you need one.
- Under the Washington Healthy Starts Act, if you work for an employer with 15 or employees and you need a “reasonable accommodation” because of your pregnancy or childbirth, your employer has to give it to you unless it would be really difficult or expensive (an “undue hardship”). This means:
- Your boss can’t just fire you if you ask for a chair to sit on or light duty while you are pregnant—she has to give you what you need to stay healthy at work, unless your employer can show that it would seriously harm the business.
- Examples of accommodations listed in the law include, but are not limited to frequent, longer, or flexible bathroom breaks, modification to a no food or drink policy, job restructuring, part-time, or modified work schedules, providing seating or allowing the employee to sit more frequently, temporary transfer to a less strenuous or hazardous position, providing assistance with manual labor or lifting, and scheduling flexibility for prenatal visits.
- You can request another type of accommodation, and your employer must consider the request.
- For more information about your rights under this law, click here.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it illegal for employers in the U.S. with 15 or more employees to discriminate against disabled workers. Some pregnancy-related conditions, such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, are considered disabilities under the law. This means:
- Your boss cannot fire you, refuse to give you a promotion, or harass you because you have a pregnancy-related disability.
- If you have a pregnancy-related disability, your boss cannot refuse to give you small changes at work that you need to stay healthy, like breaks to take medication, temporary relief from heavy lifting, or a stool to sit on during your shift. These changes are called “reasonable accommodations” and are available as long as you can still complete the basic duties of your job with those changes. Your boss does not have to give you an accommodation that would be very difficult or expensive, like building a whole new office.
- Although pregnancy, by itself, is not considered a “disability,” some conditions of pregnancy may be disabilities so check with a lawyer to see whether you have a right to an accommodation at work.
- The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) also bans disability discrimination, and covers employers with 8 or more employees.
- If you are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, or the Washington Family Leave Act, you have the right to take time off during pregnancy or after experiencing a miscarriage without losing your job. See the “Leaving Work for Childbirth and Bonding” section under the next tab for more information or see this guide to your workplace rights around miscarriage.
- If your employer has 8 or more employees, regulations also require it to provide you with a Pregnancy and Childbirth Leave of Absence for the time you are sick or disabled because of pregnancy or childbirth. You have a right to return to the same or similar job with at least the same pay.
Leaving Work for Childbirth & Bonding
The U.S. is one of the only countries in the world with no law guaranteeing women the right to paid leave for childbirth. However, you may have the right to take unpaid leave for childbirth and return to your job.
If you are an employee in Washington, you have the right to paid family and medical leave.
- This law gives you the right to take up to 16 weeks of leave in a 52-week period, at up to 90% of the statewide weekly average wage per week.
- Leave under this law can be used for your own serious health condition; to bond with a child within one year of the child’s birth or placement; to care for a family member with a serious health condition; or for certain military family needs.
- This law may provide job protection in addition to pay. Workers are entitled to job protection under the state paid family and medical leave law only if they work for an employer with at least 50 employees, have been employed by that employer for at least 12 months, and have worked for that employer for at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period immediately preceding leave. A worker entitled to job protection under the law must be restored to the worker’s prior position or “an equivalent position with equivalent employment benefits, pay, and other terms and conditions of employment.” Some highly paid employees may be subject to a very narrow exception. Workers who receive health insurance through their employers are entitled to continuation of those benefits while on leave if their employers would be required to continue benefits under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
- For more information about your rights under this law, click here.
Leave for Childbirth and Adoption
The law may protect your job while you are taking leave after childbirth or adoption.
- If you are covered, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows you to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off of work per year for a family health emergency or to take care of a new baby— without losing your job (or your health insurance, if you have it).
- Only about half of all private sector workers in the U.S. are covered by the law! You must 1) work for the government or a company with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of your worksite and 2) have worked with your employer for at least 1 year and 3) have worked at least 1,250 hours in the year before taking leave.
- If you are covered, you can use the 12 weeks to care for your own health (including pregnancy), to care for a new child after birth, adoption, or foster placement, or to care for a seriously ill family member. Remember that you only get 12 weeks a year in total—if you take time off before you give birth for your own health needs, you’ll have less time afterward to spend with your baby.
- Before giving birth, you may use your leave an hour or day at a time—such as by taking a day off per week to go to the doctor— rather than all at once. Your employer must approve, however, if you want to use leave time in smaller chunks to bond with your baby.
- While you are on leave, you have the right to keep your benefits. When you return to work, you have the right to return to the same or a similar job.
- If you are in the top 10% of highest-paid workers in your company, different rules apply.
- As mentioned previously, if your employer has 8 or more employees, regulations require that your employer must provide you with a Pregnancy and Childbirth Leave of Absence for the time you are sick or disabled because of pregnancy or childbirth. You have a right to return to the same or similar job with at least the same pay. Unlike the FMLA and FLA, this law does not cover time for bonding.
- Washington law says that employers must grant Adoptive Parents and stepparents (both men and women) the same amount of leave time that they provide for biological parents, not counting maternity disability leave.
- If your boss treats workers who take time off for childbirth differently from workers who take time off for other medical treatments (for example, she gives most workers 2 weeks off for surgery but only 1 week for childbirth), this could be illegal under the national Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Call A Better Balance if you think you are being treated unfairly.
Returning to Work: Recovery, Nursing, and Sick Time
When you return to work as a new parent, you may still need a few extra breaks to pump breastmilk or time off to care for your baby when he’s sick. There are a few laws that can help you get back to work safely and still care for your family.
Returning from Childbirth
- If you are disabled for a period of time after childbirth, the Americans with Disabilities Act and Washington disability laws, discussed in the “While You’re Pregnant” tab, may apply.
- If so, you may be able to get an accommodation at work, such as light duty, while you recover.
- The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) gives some U.S. workers the right to take unpaid breaks at work to pump milk, and requires some employers to find a clean, private place that’s not a bathroom for employees to pump milk. This law only applies to workers and employers who are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)— the law that sets minimum wage and overtime requirements.
- It may be illegal under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act for your boss to punish or discriminate against you because you are lactating.
- Washington’s Healthy Starts Act may also help, if you need a reasonable accommodation to breastfeed your baby at work.
- Under Washington’s Freedom from Discrimination Law, you have the right to breastfeed your child in any public location.
- For more information about your nursing rights, click here.
Caring for Your Family: Family Illness and Caregiver Discrimination
As a new parent, you may face discrimination at work or have problems taking time off when you or your baby is sick. These laws can help you balance your job and caring for your family.
- If you are covered by the FMLA, or Washington’s Paid Family Leave law, you have the right to take time off to care for a seriously ill family member. See the “Leaving Work for Childbirth and Bonding” section under the previous tab for more information on this law.
- Washington has a Paid Sick Time law that allows you to stay home if you or your family member is sick, needs to visit the doctor, or need “safe time to address needs related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, without losing your job.
- You can accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 40 hours worked.
- There is no explicit cap on how much sick time you can earn or use in a year. However, your employer is not required to allow you to carry over more than 40 hours of unused paid sick time a year.
- Sick time under this law can also be used when a worker’s place of work or child’s school/place of care is closed by public health officials for a public health emergency.
- You can read more about the paid sick time law here.
- The state law set a minimum standard for paid sick time. If you work in Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane, you may be entitled to accrue Paid Sick Time to care for your own or a family member’s health needs, like sickness or a check-up.
- In Seattle, if you work for the City of Seattle or a private company with 4 or more employees for more than 240 hours in Seattle within a calendar year, you are covered by the law. In businesses with 250 or more employees, you can earn 1 hour for every 30 hours worked. In businesses with more than 4 and fewer than 250 employees, you can earn 1 hour for every 40 hours worked. Work-study students are not covered by the law.
- If you work in Tacoma for more than 80 hours within a calendar year, you are entitled to 1 hour for every 40 hours worked, and you can earn up to 24 hours in a calendar year. The law does not cover work-study students, independent contractors, single-person businesses, or government workers.
- If you work in Spokane, and your employer has 10 or more employees, you have the right to take up to 40 hours of paid sick time a year. If your employer has fewer than 10 employees, you have the right to take up to 24 hours of paid sick time a year.
- In Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane, the time can also be used for “safe time” purposes related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking (like the need for time off to obtain protective orders, relocate, etc.) when the victim is the worker or the worker’s family member.
- In Seattle and Tacoma, sick time under the local laws can also be used when a worker’s place of work or child’s school/place of care is closed by public health officials for a public health emergency.
- You can read more about the paid sick time laws here.
- Caregiver Discrimination is illegal in Tacoma. It is also unlawful for a Tacoma employer to require you to provide information regarding your familial status when applying for a job.
- If you receive sick time or other paid leave from you employer, you have the right to use that leave to Care for a Family Member, including a sick child, spouse, parent, parent-in-law, or grandparent.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act also bans unfair treatment of workers based on their relationship with a disabled person. For example, your boss can’t cut your hours because he thinks you can’t work as hard because you have a child with asthma. However this law does not give relatives of a disabled person the right to accommodations, such as a schedule change, to help them provide care.