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Know Your Rights as a Pregnant Employee


The laws protecting pregnant women at work are getting stronger, but some workers are still being discriminated against. Know your rights so you can stand up for yourself before you are taken advantage of or subjected to illegal treatment.


(Photo Credit: Mike Klein/Flickr)

The recent case of Angelica Valencia shows that when you don’t know and insist upon your rights, you lose them. Valencia received a note from her doctor that she was temporarily unable to work overtime at the potato packing plant at which she was employed.

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Ms. Valencia was 39 years old, three months pregnant, and had suffered a miscarriage with her former pregnancy. Her doctor considered her current pregnancy “high risk.” Her employer’s response was that she could work full duty or not at all. Ms. Valencia lost her job.

Since then, Ms. Valencia has learned that the law is on her side.

Federal Law

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA.) This federal law states: 

If a woman is temporarily unable to perform her job due to a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth, the employer or other covered entity must treat her in the same way as it treats any other temporarily disabled employee. For example, the employer may have to provide light duty, alternative assignments, disability leave, or unpaid leave to pregnant employees if it does so for other temporarily disabled employees.

Arguably, if Ms. Valencia’s employer treats all temporarily disabled employees in such a draconian manner, then they may not have broken federal law. However, Ms. Valencia lives and works in New York.

New York Law

Since January, 2014 The Pregnancy Worker’s Fairness Act has been in place protecting New York City employees. The law requires:

  • pregnant employees received reasonable rest and water breaks; 
  • modified schedules; 
  • light duty; and that 
  • pregnant employees be informed of their rights. In other words, employers are not allowed to keep the law a secret.

Of course, Ms. Valencia’s employer did not inform her of her rights as a pregnant worker. They just fired her.

People should not have to choose between a miscarriage and losing their jobs. When a baby is on the way, people need their jobs more than ever. There are laws on the books protecting pregnant workers, but we must educate ourselves and know our rights.

Ms. Valencia is currently represented by Dina Bakst, who is co-president of the legal advocacy group A Better Balance. She is hoping to recoup lost wages as a result of being illegally told her services were no longer needed.

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Have you been pregnant while employed? How were you treated? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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