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Must I go on leave if I become pregnant?

On Behalf of | Apr 18, 2018 | Family & Medical Leave Act (fmla), Workplace Discrimination

As an employed Georgia woman who may be thinking about starting a family, you should be aware that pregnancy discrimination still exists in the workplace. Before you laugh this off as a ludicrous possibility, consider the case of a female Walmart employee right here in Georgia.

Last summer a woman employed at the Walmart Distribution Center located in Atlanta developed morning sickness symptoms while at work. She asked for permission to take an early break; however, her supervisor told her that this was a “special privilege” for which she needed a doctor’s note. Not wishing to make trouble, she gave up the idea of an early break and kept working to the best of her ability. She did, however, see her doctor shortly thereafter and obtained his statement saying she should not do any heavy lifting at work during her pregnancy.

Walmart’s pregnancy policy

When she presented this statement to her supervisor, he sent her to Human Resources. They told her that she must take an unpaid leave of absence until she was no longer pregnant since her pregnancy constituted a liability for Walmart. She was shocked, incensed and humiliated, especially since she had received help lifting heavy objects many times in the past before becoming pregnant. Nevertheless, she acquiesced and took the unpaid leave since she felt she had no other option if she wished to keep her job. She ultimately returned to work after the birth of her child.

EEOC lawsuits

She consulted a family rights advocacy group during the many months of her forced unpaid leave. They filed an Equal Employment Opportunity lawsuit on her behalf, claiming discrimination. They had extensive experience in such suits since it was the sixth one they filed in recent years on behalf of similarly situated women.

The EEOC handled close to 31,000 of these pregnancy discrimination lawsuits between 2010 and 2015. Many of them were against Walmart, the largest private employer in 22 of the 50 states.

Anti-discrimination laws

Despite the protections afforded by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, expectant mothers nevertheless face continuing discrimination in the workplace. The only answer seems to be an ever-growing number of lawsuits that not only raise awareness of this prohibited form of workplace discrimination, but also penalize the companies that engage in it. Unfortunately, your best strategy before becoming pregnant is to check your company’s pregnancy policy so you at least know what, if any, problems you may face with regard to your job.