You’ve got a plan–you’re 8 ½ months pregnant, but that’s not about to stop you from reaching your career goals! You’re going to take advantage of the FMLA (the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993), use your 12 unpaid weeks to rest and care for your newborn, but as soon as those weeks are up you know that you’ll be back in the office, working as hard as ever!
Well, that is until your company’s Human Resource department informs you that since you’ve only worked for the company for 10 months total, or since your company only has 39 employees, you actually don’t qualify for the FMLA, which states that you must have worked for your company for at least 12 months before your baby is born, and your company must employ at least 50 employees. They may tell you to go home and Google it if you don’t believe them, because it’s not their fault, it’s just the law, sorry, but you simply don’t qualify, and if you don’t return to work on Monday (after birthing your baby Saturday night) they’ll fire you for being AWOL; well, unless you use the 4 days of vacation you’ve got left, then you’ve got until Friday. Now what?
Step 1: Don’t quit.
Step 2: Seriously, don’t quit. If you quit, even though your company is discriminating against you, since you willingly walked off the job, there is very little that you can do, including collecting unemployment/insurance benefits. If you could go back in time, you’d confer with an experienced employee rights lawyer as soon as you learned that you were pregnant to find out what your rights truly are, but since you can’t, you’ll do that now.
Step 3: Now that you have not quit and met with an experienced employment lawyer, you’ll find out that you might be protected under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which will allow you to keep your job and take unpaid time off to care for your little one and rest and recuperate.
So, what is this magical Pregnancy Discrimination Act? The PDA is an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and it states that a company with 15 or more employees cannot treat your baby’s birth any differently from another employee who has any type of disability need, whether it is a broken leg or a bad bout of the flu. If your employer can find a way to make a “reasonable accommodation” for that employee (letting the person with the flu do data work from home, for example, or simply to stay out sick for two weeks until she gets better), the employer must make a reasonable accommodation for you as you recover from the birth of your baby, and under most disability laws, that period of time is generally 6 to 8 weeks, minimum.
Be sure to discuss with your employment lawyer the specific laws for your city and state, because the PDA is federal, but your state and city may have additional protective laws, for example in both the state and city of New York, an employer only needs to have 4 employees for a pregnant worker to qualify for protection from discrimination, not 15.
So what is the most important part of this message? If you are pregnant, find out your rights, don’t get fooled by your employer into believing you don’t have options, and most importantly, don’t quit!
– Nicole Nadler