Pregnancy discrimination act USA - looking out for women's welfare
The fact that women are discriminated against without a thought, is no secret. However, from time immemorial there have been groups of women and some men, fighting a steady battle to equalize the genders, to reduce discrimination and bias and to improve the status of women in society. As a result, many laws have been passed and many organizations formed to ensure that women get what is due to them.
The USA Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, was one such extremely necessary law that was passed with the intention to remove any discrimination at the work place for women who are pregnant. There were several reasons for the implementation of this act. In the early 70s, there were reports of women being demoted and fired or asked to leave their jobs because their pregnant condition “disturbed” the work place and other employees. Pregnant school teachers were forced to take unpaid maternity leave from the 4th month onwards with the authorities saying that they would distract students or even pose dangers to themselves and their unborn children.
In 1908 in fact, the Supreme Court had ruled that women should only be limited to 10 hour workdays because according to them, “performance of maternal functions” would inhibit women from being capable at their work like their male counterparts. Such declaration spawned laws that stopped women from working and prevented employers from hiring them for a certain period of time before and after delivery. Courts also ruled that special medical benefits for pregnant women should be excluded from hiring policies because while they acknowledged that only women could get pregnant, other women and men would be treated unfairly if expecting women were given special benefits.
Public furore greeted such intensely illogical laws and that is how the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was finally passed in 1978 after an amendment was made in the women’s rights section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) the PDA as the act is known as prevents employers from discriminating against employees based on pregnancy and related medical conditions. However, this act is only applicable to companies that employ more than 15 people.
The act effectively ensures that pregnant employees cannot be asked to undergo special procedures to check for efficacy at work while she is pregnant unless all employees are asked to do so. The pregnant employee should be treated as all “disabled” or unwell employees should she not be able to perform at work because of her condition. She cannot be prohibited from working or returning to work after delivering her baby and she pregnant employees should also not be asked to pay more for employee related health insurance premiums. The health insurance plans provided by the employer should treat pregnancy the same as other health issues. If an employer disregards these laws or rules, the employee in question can file a case against him.
Subsequently, another law to protect the rights of pregnant women was passed in 1993, The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 ensures that a woman can take a sabbatical for pregnancy related conditions and even to take care of the child for a certain period of time. This allows people who are suffering from grave ill health to take leave too, with the certainty that their job is safe when they are ready to come back. Under this act an employee can take up to 12 weeks of leave – unpaid, of course – in a period of a year. However, to avail of this Act, the employee would have had to be employed with the employer for a year before taking leave.
Pregnancy is not a disease, neither is it reason for a woman to stop functioning as a capable individual, unless there are medical complications which are grave and serious. Acts such as the PDA serve to remind men and women who discriminate on these grounds.