Discrimination in the workplace against pregnant women is still a problem, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The bias persists even though there is a federal law prohibiting such discriminatory practices. The information is a red flag for human resource departments to take a look at their related policies and enforcement.
The EEOC investigated 20 cases in 2011 where there were indications that discrimination against pregnant women was happening. The number of discrimination claims filed by workers during the same year, however, was nearly 6,000, a 15 percent increase from 10 years ago, according to the agency.
On major discrimination case involved a security company that provides services to the federal government. In 2010 the company, Akal Security Inc., settled with the government for $1.64 million for allegedly forcing pregnant workers to take leaves of absence or being let go because of their pregnancy.
Discrimination can also take other forms, such as harassment. Those at most at risk for discrimination are low-wage pregnant workers who have few sick days, according to the EEOC. These women often are not given any consideration because of their pregnancy.
According to the law, discrimination occurs when a woman is treated unfavorably because she is pregnant or has a medical condition related to pregnancy. According to the EEOC, if a woman cannot perform her job because of a medical condition that is related to her pregnancy, she must be treated the way any other disabled employee would be treated.
Even though employers have policies relating to pregnancy discrimination, it still happens. Managers who may not be aware of the law and are just looking at job performance may discriminate against a pregnant employee if they assume she will not return to work and give her job duties to someone else, or assume she eventually will drop out of the workforce to raise the child. These kinds of attitudes have to be eradicated through better training and enforcement of policies, according to officials.
The biggest problem with discrimination seems to be at smaller companies, who don’t have the training needed to inform employees about the law. Women report that they were fired as soon as they informed the company about their pregnancy, and were told they were let go specifically because they were pregnant.
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