Can a woman be discriminated against for being pregnant?

If you become pregnant can your employer force you to take a leave of absence? Can your employer fire you if become pregnant? Can pregnancy be treated differently than any other disability?

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on sex. Until 1978, however, that protection did not extend to pregnant employees. In 1978, Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act which prohibited employment discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and pregnancy-related conditions including morning sickness and doctor-ordered bed rest. This means that employer practices and policies that treat pregnant female employees differently or that have a disparate impact on pregnant female employees are a violation of federal law.

These discriminatory policies are also prohibited under Texas law by Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code. Texas law provides essentially the same protection as federal law.

For example, an employer cannot refuse to hire or promote a female employee because she is pregnant. Similarly, an employer cannot make a female employee take a leave of absence before she is unable to perform her job. Further, an employer cannot set a predetermined period of time for pregnancy employees to remain on leave.

Essentially, employers must treat female employees who are pregnant the same as any other employee, as long as the pregnancy does not affect her ability to work. So, if employee benefits and privileges are given to employees with different medical conditions, those same benefits and privileges must also be given to pregnant female employees.

For example, if a male employee is allowed to take unpaid sick leave to recover from a medical condition, a pregnant female employee must be given the same right during pregnancy and after childbirth. Similarly, disability insurance must also be given equally to male employees and pregnant female employees.

Under the law, pregnancy and pregnancy-related conditions are treated as temporary disabilities and must be treated the same as other temporary disabilities by the employer. This does not mean preferential treatment, but equal treatment.

This protection can also cover spouses of employees. For example, a male employee cannot be fired because his wife—also covered under the employer’s health insurance plan—becomes pregnant.