Pregnant Workers: 35 Years Later and Still Struggling

Written by Melissa McGlensy

Thirty five years ago this week the federalPregnancy Discrimination Act was born. The PDA was passed in 1978as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. It outlawed workplace discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions and applies to employers with 15 or more employees, including both state and local governments.

Essentially, the PDA was meant to promote equal opportunity and prevent discrimination in the workplace by mandating that pregnant women be treated the same as other employees in regards to hiring, firing, training, promotions, disability leave and all other aspects of employment. However, pregnancy discrimination claims have risen35 percent over the last decade,and the PDA’s power to protect women has proven woefully limited.

The specific wording of the PDA is such that being fired for pregnancy is a clear violation, but it becomes vague about other protections. For example, the act says that employers must provide accommodations for pregnant women the same way that they would for those with temporary disabilities. But if they don’t accommodate employees with temporary disabilities, they may not be required to offer reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. Also, many workplaces only accommodate injuries that happen on the job, and pregnancy hardly ever qualifies.

Although the PDA meant well, it has sadly fallen short of providing pregnant women the protections they need. Because of this, many states have passed their own pregnant worker protection laws, including California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Louisiana, Alaska, Texas, Maryland and Illinois. Even city governments are stepping up, the New York City Council havingrecently passed a bill to provide pregnant workers with specific accommodations such as water breaks and exemptions from heavy lifting. Philadelphia City Council members have introduced a bill mirroring it. Unfortunately federal attempts have been less successful.The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act was introduced in Congress last May, but has been stalled in a House subcommittee since July.

University of Dayton law professor Jeannette Cox suggests, in a recent article published in theBoston College Law Review, that the answer to the limited protections provided by the PDA is to include pregnancy as part of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Cox argues that redefining pregnancy as a disability under the law would ensure women access to special accommodations, but the idea of defining pregnancy as a “defective state“is unappealing to many women who see it as reinforcing stereotypes and a step backwards from equality.

“It’s a debate internal to feminism,” says Cox. “Do we want our laws to treat us exactly the same? Or to give us equal employment opportunities, which account for our physiological difference and a history of exclusion?”

This post was originally published in Ms Magazine

Photo Credit: Flickr


Jim V
Jim V7 months ago


Jerome S
Jerome S7 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Paola Ballanti
Paola Ballanti4 years ago


A F.
Athena F4 years ago


Allie Y.
Allison Y4 years ago

Pam- AMEN!! I would think as an employer, I should have the right to promote/increase wages/etc. for someone who has been there every day, over some woman who took months off to have a kid, sick days when her kid was sick, and can only do half the work as us non-pregnant folks. I myself am getting tired of picking up the slack for those that contribute to overpopulation, then turn around and call me selfish. To them I say- "You're welcome".

Winn Adams
Winn A4 years ago

No surprise here . . . .

Pam Bacon
Pam Bacon4 years ago

I know that I am in the minority here and will probably be severely bashed........................ However, pregnancy is a CHOICE, it is not a disease or a disability. If you can't do your job and have a child then maybe you should re-evaluate your choices. Sorry but the earth is SEVERELY overpopulated. And there are way TOO MANY people having children who aren't educated, can't support them, aren't capable of caring for them, etc. For the record I DID love my mother very much. I feel that my parents paid for me financially through their taxes. However I DESPISE being FORCED to support all these children. If people want to have children then they should be totally financially responsible for them. People who don't have children shouldn't be forced to pay for/subsidize their education, medical expenses, etc. I've made other choices on what to have in my life, as have many others, and no one contributes to that for me.

J C Bro
J C Brou4 years ago

a balance between equal treatment and redress for women's rights MUST be achieved!

Kate S.
Kate S4 years ago


Barbara V.
Barbara L4 years ago

Sad to say I have known women bosses who have treated their pregnant employees unfairly. Corporations care about profits, not pregnant employees, not even non-pregnant employees.