Most people understand there are laws protecting workers and job applicants from being discriminated against because they are pregnant or gave birth. State and federal laws outlining the type of behavior that is illegal have existed for quite a long time.

Yet every year, thousands of people file charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging an employer acted against them on the basis of their pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. If you’re unfamiliar with the law, what exactly might pregnancy discrimination look like?

The basics of federal pregnancy discrimination law

At its core, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act includes two fundamental requirements.

First, an employer cannot discriminate against an employee or applicant on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. That can include the worker’s hiring or firing, pay rate, job assignments, promotions, training, fringe benefits and other conditions of employment.

Second, if a worker is temporarily disabled or dealing with health issues because of pregnancy or childbirth, the employer must treat them exactly as they would another worker whose ability to do their job is similarly affected. Basically, the employer’s response to each situation has to be the same.

Examples of pregnancy discrimination

So how might this play out in a real workplace? Workplace Fairness provides some examples of possible pregnancy discrimination:

  • A worker tells her boss she is pregnant. The boss then fires or demotes her, even though she is still able to work.
  • A pregnant job applicant goes in for an interview. The interviewer asks when she is due, then tells her to come back after her child is born and she is ready to work.
  • An employer allows a worker that needs surgery to take time off for medical care. When a pregnant worker also needs time off for a medical procedure, the employer denies her request and disciplines her for missing time.
  • An employer tells a pregnant worker she must continue lifting heavy boxes during her pregnancy, causing the worker to quit. Yet when a colleague was recovering from an injury, the employer allowed them to stop lifting heavy boxes until they were fully healthy.

Between federal and state laws, just about every employer must follow these rules. Those that don’t may find themselves facing a pregnancy discrimination complaint or lawsuit.