When a woman learns that she is pregnant, it can be one of the most joyous occasions in life. Unfortunately, there are some employers who believe pregnant workers are likely to harm their businesses, so they will try to rid their company of the employees by treating them poorly, denying them opportunities for advancement or even finding excuses to fire them.
"No more babies." That is what the president of a company allegedly said to employees during a staff meeting. The part-owner of a plant nursery also reportedly told female employees at the meeting that the next person to get pregnant should simply stay at home and consider herself fired. As you know, discrimination on the basis of pregnancy is prohibited by the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act.
The news came as a jolt to many women who heard that a female magazine editor had been fired while she was on maternity leave. People around the country wondered if the firing was even legal, and whether pregnant women and new moms are protected in the workplace.The first step in examining the case of Michelle Tan, who was editor in chief of Seventeen magazine, is to note the limitations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Though the law provides some protections to employees, it does not contain "standard maternity leave," the Director of Workplace Equality with the National Women's Law Center said.
The Family and Medical Leave Act is the first and only federal law that addresses the balance between jobs and family that workers in Wisconsin and across the U.S. must maintain. The 12 weeks of unpaid leave guaranteed by the act has been used more than 200 million times since being passed. Reasons for taking leave vary, including recovering from a serious illness, caring for a loved one who is ill or receiving maternity or paternity leave.
Wisconsin workplace pregnancy discrimination laws have the potential to be effected by a case that is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court. A woman's lawsuit against UPS for placing her on unpaid leave instead of putting her on light duty during her pregnancy will be heard by the court, according to reports.
In Wisconsin, it is illegal to fire or withhold benefits from an employee due to a pregnancy. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act also forbids an employer from discriminating against a pregnant employee in regards to pay, job assignments or training opportunities. If an employee is unable to perform job duties temporarily due to a pregnancy, the employer is obligated to treat that employee like any other temporarily disabled employee.
Almost every state in the U.S., including Wisconsin, is an at-will employment state. This means that absent any federal or state law violation, either the employer or the employee can terminate the employment relationship for any reason at any time. To add a bit more definition to employment relationships, many employers use employment contracts. However, contracts are only enforceable if their contents do not violate any laws.
In 1978, the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act amended Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to make it illegal to discriminate against pregnant women in employment and in other areas. Nonetheless, 35 years later expectant women in Wisconsin are sometimes docked pay because of their pregnancy; they are refused promotions due to pregnancy; and they are sometimes even fired for requesting maternity leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. In other cases, women are sometimes refused employment because of the possibility that they may become pregnant.
In the modern workplace, discrimination is much more subtle than its earlier forms. An illegal form of employment discrimination that Wisconsin women sometimes face today is pregnancy discrimination. These cases can be difficult to prove because employers will generally list a non-discriminatory business reason for firing or refusing to hire a pregnant woman.
Wisconsin women are protected from pregnancy discrimination under several federal employment laws. In fact, 25 years ago Congress amended Title VII in order to outlaw pregnancy discrimination. Not quite as long ago, back in 1993, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act required employers to provide employees with unpaid leave for certain medical and family reasons, including childbirth. And, finally, in 2010 The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labor Standards Act to require employers to provide break time for mothers to pump breast milk for a nursing child.