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pregnant employee sitting at desk

FMLA Protections for Pregnant Employees

When people consider the protected classes in the U.S. such as race, religion, sex, and disability, most may not realize that pregnancy is included among these. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 established protections against discrimination based on an employee’s pregnancy status. It wasn’t until 1993, however, when the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) cemented many of these protections while adding others, such as job-protected leave.

If you are pregnant and work for a federal agency for a certain number of hours, FMLA protects you against interference and retaliation for requesting and/or taking FMLA leave.

What Does the Family Medical Leave Act Do?

FMLA provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave for a qualifying reason. Pregnancy and childbirth are two of the most commonly cited reasons to take FMLA leave, but the law allows other reasons such as child bonding after adoption or foster care placement as well as to care for an immediate relative’s serious illness or one’s own serious illness.

An employee can take 12 weeks of leave consecutively or intermittently, but leave can only be used within 12 months of eligibility for any qualifying reason. Employers can also approve additional time, although not a requirement. Employees are also protected by FMLA for requesting reasonable accommodation.

What Does Unpaid Job-Protected Leave Mean?

Unpaid job-protected leave means that an employer doesn’t have to pay an employee while they’re on FMLA leave, but they can’t fire the employee while they’re on leave, either. Employees should expect to return to the same or a very similar role in the company with at least equivalent pay and benefits as when they left. Meaning you should also not face repercussions of any kind related to your position once you have returned from leave. Often times, this is where employees encounter issues that they do not immediately connect with their FMLA leave. An experienced attorney can help you navigate these issues before they grow into a more serious problem affecting your employment and pay.

Further, while an employees can be terminated in a general layoff that would have occurred whether or not the employee took leave, the fact that an employee is on FMLA leave for pregnancy should play no role in determining if that employee is included in a layoff. Often times, this is difficult to discern without filing a complaint and initiating a litigation and an experienced attorney can walk you through the analysis of such a decision to act.

What Are the Qualification Requirements for FMLA Leave?

Federal employees must meet the following requirements to be eligible for FMLA leave:

  • Worked for the federal government agency for at least 12 months
  • Worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to beginning leave

A “covered employer” is any public agency at the local, state, or federal level; any public school; and any private employer with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of the pregnant employee’s worksite.

Pregnancy Discrimination Interference & Retaliation

You are protected against all forms of discrimination based on your pregnancy, intent to become pregnant, or childbirth. This means that your employer can’t retaliate against you for requesting FMLA job leave during pregnancy. Retaliation can be obvious, but often it can also be subtle and employees will disregard it until it becomes more serious. It is recommended that if you feel anything is amiss, you consult with an experienced attorney to timely and effectively address any concerns with your agency employer.

Retaliation can come in many forms, such as the following:

  • Termination
  • Harassment (including sexual harassment and non-sexual harassment such as constant difficulties caused to you in the performance of your duties)
  • Threats
  • Demotion
  • Arbitrarily poor performance evaluations
  • Passed over for promotion
  • Pay raise denial
  • Benefits denial
  • Reduced hours
  • Transfer to a less desirable role

Should you experience any subtle actions you feel should not be occurring, or any adverse employment actions based on your pregnancy, you should immediately contact an experienced attorney for assistance to be sure you do not miss any deadlines to act. Always remember, that timelines for federal employees to act can be shorter and different than timelines for employees in the private sector, often less than 45 days or 30 days from a known or suspected action.

Contact Us Today for FMLA Legal Support

Legal Lion Employment Law Firm can provide the legal support necessary to help pregnant employees who were unfairly treated with regard to FMLA leave. We understand the challenges many pregnant people must face during this time, and our goal is to provide both compassionate and aggressive legal assistance to help our clients assert their rights.

For more information about how our attorneys can help, contact Legal Lion Employment Law Firm online today.