Know your pregnancy rights at work! Lawyer and women's rights activist Daphne Delvaux explains how to protect yourself if you experience pregnancy discrimination on the job.


By Daphne Delvaux

So you've mastered up all your courage and you've told your boss you're pregnant. "Congratulations!" he or she says with a forced smile. But you know what they really want to say is, "This is what you get for hiring women."

Suddenly, everything changes. It starts small. You're starting to receive less interesting work and all of the big projects and clients are given to your coworkers. You tell your boss, "Hey this isn't because I'm pregnant right?" "No no, of course not."

But then your boss starts admonishing you for things other people do as well, and then you're given a bad performance evaluation which had never happened before. You feel like your boss is trying to get you to quit. You need your job and you don't want to quit, but you lay awake at night worrying about how you'll pay the bills if you get fired.

Or let's say you came back from your leave and they don't like that they had to "deal" with you being gone. Your supervisor is frustrated that he or she had to pick up the slack. Since you've returned from leave, you've been excluded from meetings and passed over for opportunities and promotions.

You know they're thinking, "Well we'll just never know when she'll get knocked up again and leave us understaffed." Meanwhile, you are trying as hard as you can to prove you can do the job just as well as before you had the baby. You feel frustrated by your boss's lack of compassion and patience.

Take a breath mama. The law is on your side.

As a pregnant woman or new mother, you are protected from pregnancy discrimination and/or retaliation.

Employers may not refuse to hire, select for training, promote, may not terminate, or otherwise retaliate against an employee because of pregnancy, breastfeeding, or pregnancy-related conditions. Employers may also not retaliate against you for opposing illegal conduct, like filing a complaint with HR, or being a witness to another case. This includes emailing HR that you feel discriminated against because of your pregnancy. If you start being treated poorly after you assert yourself, you may be experiencing retaliation. You are also protected from retaliation for requesting a reasonable accommodation, whether or not it is granted.

Your employer may not discriminate or retaliate against you for taking leave. Your employer cannot use you taking advantage of bonding leave as a negative factor in decisions such as hiring, promotions or discipline. Your leave cannot be counted under attendance policies.

How to protect yourself if you experience discrimination or retaliation

Discrimination and retaliation are complicated things. You know it is happening, but of course they are not telling you it is because of your pregnancy or leave. They are not stupid. Instead they say "the work is just slow right now" or "this customer just likes working with your coworker more," but you can feel that they are just trying to cover up their true motivations, which is that they don't like the fact that you have to take time away from work.

Even if they're not saying this to your face, doesn't mean that it's not real discrimination or retaliation. You can usually tell by the timing and the way they treat your coworkers. Was there a change in treatment after you gave notice of your pregnancy or after you returned from leave?

Do they treat coworkers who are 100% focused on work or who did not take time away better than they treat you? Do you feel like they're trying to find little things to hold against you even though none of it makes any sense? Then you may be experiencing discrimination or retaliation.

If you sense you are going through discrimination or retaliation, here are some more tips:

  • Make sure to keep notes of all the important events that are happening to you. I like the practice of emailing myself notes I don't want to forget, because then there's a time stamp and no one can accuse you of writing them after-the-fact. You can email yourself: "Today my boss took my most lucrative client from me and gave it to a guy who was hired two weeks ago. I feel very frustrated."
  • Make sure all of your communications with HR or your managers are in writing. During meetings, take notes, and immediately email the attendees after the meeting, "This is my reflection of what was discussed during the meeting ... [you said this... I said that...] let me know if you have a different understanding."
  • Keep in mind that your work emails are owned by the company. If you get fired, they will block access to your emails. Always forward important emails to your personal email or make copies of the emails to keep in a file.
  • Make sure you keep doing your job. Don't give them a reason to fire you. It will look really bad on them if they fire you and they can't find anything wrong with your performance or competence.
      Do you sense you've experienced discrimination or retaliation? You can reach out to Daphne from Mamattorney here.