While You’re Pregnant
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. U.S., Wisconsin, 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. That means:
- Your boss can’t fire you or cut your hours when she finds out that you’re 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. 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 Wisconsin Fair Employment Act also bans discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, maternity leave, or related medical conditions, and covers all employers, regardless of size.
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.
- 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 Wisconsin Fair Employment Act also bans disability discrimination, and covers all employers, regardless of size.
- If you are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, you have the right to take time off during pregnancy without losing your job. See the “Leaving Work for Childbirth and Bonding” section under the next tab for more information.
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.
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.
- Wisconsin has a law that is very similar to the FMLA but covers a few more workers— the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act (WFMLA). If you have worked for your employer for 12 months, you are eligible for job-protected, unpaid leave under this law if you have worked at least 1,000 (rather than 1,250) hours with that employer in the past 12 months and your employer has 50 or more employees.
- The WFMLA defines family more broadly than the federal FMLA to include domestic partners.
- The WFMLA provides less time off than the FMLA. You only have the right to a maximum of 6 weeks to care for a new child, 2 weeks to care for a spouse or domestic partner with a serious health condition, 2 weeks of pregnancy-related leave in any 12-month period, and 2 weeks off for your own serious health condition.
- Employees can substitute any accrued paid leave they have for unpaid family or medical leave.
- Check here for more information on the WFMLA.
- 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 and Wisconsin discrimination laws. 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 state 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.
- Under Wisconsin law, you have the right to Breastfeed Your Child in any public or private 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, you have the right to take time off to care for a seriously ill family member. See the “Leaving Work” tab for more information on this law.
- In Wisconsin, if you had to leave your job to take care of a sick or disabled family member, you may still be able to get Unemployment Insurance.
- 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.