According to reports by The Guardian, roughly 54,000 women lose their jobs each year due to maternity leave or pregnancy discrimination. Discrimination may include harassment, pressure to resign, reductions in pay or benefits, or outright termination. Sadly, a 2016 report by the Partnership for Women and Families explains that Alabama ranks fifth in the nation for the most charges of pregnancy-related discrimination per capita. It seems the most affected industries are healthcare, retail, and hospitality.
Unfortunately, Alabama remains one of just four states (Alabama, Indiana, South Dakota, and North Carolina) that have no state legislation offering clear protections against pregnancy discrimination. However, Alabama does protect certain other related rights of women in the workforce.
Under Section 207(r) of the Fair Labor Standards Act (the law that governs minimum wage and overtime laws), an employer with 50 or more employees shall provide a reasonable break time to express breast milk, and a place to do so within the workplace, until the child turns one year of age. Caveat – if an employer violates this statute, Congress did not allow the employee to bring suit under the Act. Under Alabama Code Sect. 22-1-13, a woman may breastfeed her children in any place (public or private) where she is lawfully permitted to be. Although the law is silent as to whether employers are required to allow breastfeeding at work, the law is written broadly and could arguably cover this.
Likewise, under Alabama regulations at Sect. 670-X-14, state employees must be allowed to use their sick time for pregnancy-related disability. This means they may use accrued sick time as soon as their doctor determines they can no longer work, due to the pregnancy. The, upon being cleared to return, they must do so in order to preserve protections.
Even though Alabama offers no statutory protections to clearly outlaw discrimination against pregnant women in the workforce, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) applies to many women in Alabama. The law, when it applies, requires employers to comply with federal law and not discriminate against women based on pregnancy.
The federal law only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. The law treats pregnancy just like any other disability, requiring that “women affected by pregnancy or related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work.” See Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
What Does Federal Law Prohibit?
While not exhaustive, here are a few of the basic protections and prohibitions provided in the federal law:
- Employer cannot “single-out” pregnancy-related conditions in order to prohibit pregnancy employees from working
- Employer must allow a pregnant employee to continue working so long as she can do so with reasonable accommodations but only if the employer grants reasonable accommodations to other employees for non-pregnancy related issues.
- Must hold a job just as long as the employer would for any other disabled worker
- Must have a leave procedure that is the same for pregnant and disabled employees
Other Options for Pregnancy Leave
If you become pregnant and cannot take advantage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, you may still be eligible for protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act, which, if applicable, can allow a new mother to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. However, FMLA only applies to large employers with 50 or more employees, and you must generally have been employed for at least a year for the law to apply.
If you believe you are the victim of employment discrimination based on your gender or because you are pregnant, contact Five Points Law Group to discuss your situation and learn more about protecting your rights. As illustrated above, Alabama employers routinely violate federal equal employment laws, making Alabama one the least compliant states in the country. An experienced Birmingham employment discrimination attorney can work to protect your rights and your career.