Civil Rights Legislation – The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978

Civil Rights Legislation – The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978
Trying to find employment while being pregnant is one of the most frustrating activities a woman will ever undertake. It is hard enough to be pregnant when things are going great, yet it gets a lot harder if you suddenly find yourself in desperate need to find new employment to either make ends meet, or simply to replace a job that you lost. In a day and age when mergers, downsizing and outsourcing pull out the rug from under a myriad of families – and also pregnant women – it is not surprising to find many of the latter job hunting. Sadly, a woman’s odds of being hired while pregnant are slim to none. This has nothing to do with her skill sets, her salary requirements, or even her availability to work, but instead is oftentimes mired in the employer’s antiquated fear of losing an employee when a child is expected.

While this in and of itself is a frustrating experience, consider the fact that until 1978 there used to be incidences where employers would fire women solely because they were pregnant. Add to this the insult of being passed over for a promotion because you were of childbearing age, or simply the fact that you recently got married, and it is not surprising that the outcry finally reached the halls of Congress. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (1) is a piece of legislation that amends the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and as such it goes a long way of fleshing out the text of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution which, in part, reads:

No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

Obviously, the outlook of not being able to keep a job, receive a promotion, or simply be hired on because a woman is in the family way, to use the old fashioned term, is a textbook example of abridging privileges. Yet how does this Act affect today’s work environment? According to a 2005 article in USA Today (2), it is a dirty little secret that discrimination against pregnant workers is actually increasing instead of decreasing. Firings – presumably for the good of the woman and unborn child – and unfavorable hiring decisions showcase that in spite of legislation there is still a lot of wiggle room for employers who just do not want to deal with pregnancies. Is it fair? No. Is it business? Yes. What can you do about it? Do not let it become business as usual, but instead stand up, speak out, and if you are in a hiring position or have managerial responsibilities think through the issue completely before you use the reflex action of saying “no” to a pregnant woman’s application.


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