US workplace protections for pregnancy, lactation, and parenting

Wondering what your rights are when it comes to expanding your family? Pregnant workers and working parents are legally entitled to certain workplace protections. Let’s review the applicable federal laws, what they say, and how they affect current and future parents in the workplace.

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Pregnancy protection laws 

Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) 

The PDA is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It outlaws workplace discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, and medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth. 

Also protected are individuals who could become pregnant or were recently pregnant; those who are pursuing fertility treatment; those who are using contraception, and those who have had or who are considering having an abortion. 

Discrimination includes job termination, harassment, reducing hours or pay, and denying an individual a job or promotion based on their pregnancy. Retaliation for reporting discrimination is also prohibited.  

American Disabilities Act (ADA) 

The ADA requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with documented disabilities. Pregnancy is not considered a disability, but some pregnancy-related conditions may be.  

Examples of pregnancy-related conditions that may qualify as a disability include: 

  • Preeclampsia 
  • Sciatica 
  • Cervical insufficiency 
  • Gestational diabetes 
  • Depression 

To be considered a disability, the condition must “substantially limit” one major life activity or one major bodily function. 

Reasonable accommodations can include: 

  • Changes in schedule or additional breaks 
  • The opportunity to sit or stand more often  
  • Ergonomic office furniture 
  • Avoiding night shifts 
  • Avoiding certain tasks 
  • Getting extra help  

Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) 

The PWFA was passed in 2023 to expand the coverage of workplace protection for pregnant individuals.  

Employers with more than 15 employees must provide reasonable accommodations to individuals who are pregnant, have given birth, or have a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth unless the employer can prove that this accommodation places undue hardship on the business.  

The individual in need of the accommodation must request the accommodation—it cannot be imposed upon them by their employer. Employees who request reasonable accommodations cannot be denied employment or penalized in any way for making a request, and they cannot be forced to go on leave.  

Lactation protection laws 

Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) 

Among other protections, the FLSA ensures the right of lactating parents to take a “reasonable” break time to express breast milk for their nursing baby for one year after the baby is born.  

  • There is no set length of time for the breaks or number of breaks permitted throughout the day.  
  • The space must be private, shielded from view, and safe from intrusion by the public and coworkers.  
  • It cannot be a bathroom.  

If other breaks in the workplace are typically paid, pumping breaks must also be paid. And if an employee is not being paid during their break, they must not be expected to do any work during their break.  

Workplaces with fewer than 50 employees still must abide by these rules unless they can prove that offering pump breaks will cause undue hardship to the business.  

Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) Act 

Passed in 2023, the PUMP Act is an updated version of the protections provided in the FLSA that extends these protections to more workers. Otherwise, the requirements and the benefits are the same.  

Family leave and working parenthood laws 

Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) 

The FMLA protects certain employees from job termination when they take leave from their work to recover from their own health condition or to care for a family member who is sick or injured. This includes healing from childbirth, having to stop working during pregnancy due to pregnancy complications, and taking time to care for a bond with baby or child who was recently born or adopted.  

There are significant limitations to this law, however. They include: 

  • Workplaces with fewer than 50 employees working within a 75-mile radius are exempt. 
  • To be eligible for this protection, employees must have worked for their employer for 12 consecutive months and must have worked at least 1,250 hours during that time.  
  • Covered leave is limited to 12 weeks within a 12-month period. 
  • This law does not require that any of the leave be paid. 

Some states offer additional family and medical leave coverage, some of which may be paid.  

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 

Title VII prevents discrimination against employees who have caregiving responsibilities (caring for children or other family members) based on protected characteristics such as the employee’s sex.  

Examples include:  

  • Assuming only women have caregiving responsibilities and that those responsibilities will interfere with their job performance 
  • Offering women who have childcare responsibilities less responsibility and lower pay 
  • Encouraging women with childcare responsibilities to work fewer hours 
  • Treating women of color who have any caregiving responsibilities differently based on their sex, race, or ethnicity 

While there is room for improvement in many of these protections, they were created to protect pregnant workers and working parents. Anyone who suspects their rights or protections have been violated should contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and file a report.  

Additionally, both employers and employees can benefit from consulting an employment attorney when needed.  

Further reading 

Pregnancy and Postpartum Considerations for the Veterinary Team
https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/mono/10.1201/9781003406907/pregnancy-postpartum-considerations-veterinary-team-emily-singler 

HANDOUT: Vet med workplace hazards that can affect pregnancy (NEWStat)
https://www.aaha.org/publications/newstat/articles/2024-3/vet-med-workplace-hazards-that-can-affect-pregnancy/  

Give working parents what they need to thrive in veterinary medicine (NEWStat)
https://www.aaha.org/publications/newstat/articles/2024-3/give-working-parents-what-they-need-to-thrive-in-veterinary-medicine/  

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
https://www.eeoc.gov/ 

State Family and Medical Leave Laws
https://www.ncsl.org/labor-and-employment/state-family-and-medical-leave-laws 

 

Emily Singler, VMD, is AAHA’s Veterinary Content Specialist and author ofPregnancy and Postpartum Considerations for the Veterinary Team. 

Cover photo credit: © Tatyana Antusenok E+ via Getty Images Plus  

Disclaimer: The views expressed, and topics discussed, in any NEWStat column or article are intended to inform, educate, or entertain, and do not represent an official position by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) or its Board of Directors. 

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