Experiencing a pregnancy can be one of the most exciting periods in a parent’s life. Unfortunately, workplace discrimination due to pregnancy is far too common in Washington. Sometimes women even feel like they need to hide their pregnancies because they are afraid of harassment or discrimination.
At Sapphire Legal, PLLC, we believe that no woman should have to fear discrimination or retribution because of her pregnancy. That’s why we fight hard so hard for pregnant mothers who have faced pregnancy discrimination. With her decades of experience, attorney Kristi Favard has successfully litigated pregnancy discrimination lawsuits throughout Washington state.
Pregnancy Discrimination Laws in Washington State
The Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) considers discrimination based on pregnancy to be sex discrimination. In other words, pregnant women are considered a member of a protected class under Washington law. The WLAD law prohibits discrimination based on all of the following:
- Illnesses or disabilities that are pregnancy-related
- The likelihood of becoming pregnant
Pregnant employees must prove that they have suffered sex discrimination based on pregnancy. WLAD requires a pregnant woman facing discrimination to prove that she is a member of a protected class. As mentioned above, if the employee is pregnant, has an illness related to pregnancy, or is likely to become pregnant, she is considered part of a protected class based on sex.
Next, she must prove that she is qualified to perform substantially equal work as others in similar positions, or that she is qualified for the employment position. She must also prove that her employer took adverse employment action against her. For example, the employer selected a non-pregnant person for a promotion instead of a pregnant employee.
Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination in Washington
Pregnancy discrimination involves any conduct that treats women unfavorably based on pregnancy, childbirth, or any related conditions. There are many different ways in which an employer can engage in pregnancy discrimination, including the following:
- Refusing to hire a pregnant job applicant and hiring a non-pregnant applicant
- Demoting or firing a pregnant employee
- Terminating the job of a pregnant woman while she is on maternity leave
- Demoting an employee when she returns after her pregnancy-related leave
- Retaliating against an employee when she returns after her pregnancy-related leave
- Treating a pregnant employee differently than employees with temporary disabilities
- Failing to provide health insurance to an employee due to his partner’s pregnancy
- Asking an applicant if she is planning on getting pregnant or having children
- Telling a job applicant to come back after her child is born and she’s ready to work
Washington Employers Have a Duty to Make Reasonable Accommodations
The Healthy Starts Act became law in 2017. This law requires Washington employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees, even when they cannot demonstrate a pregnancy-related disability. The WLAD and the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) require a pregnant employee to establish a pregnancy-related disability before receiving protection from the laws.
Now, when a pregnant employee works for a company with 15 or more employees, the employer must make reasonable accommodations to all pregnant employees, regardless if they suffer from a disability.
Examples of Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Employees
The Healthy Starts Act requires employers with over 15 employees to provide pregnant employees with specific accommodations. Employers cannot claim undue hardship to avoid providing the following accommodations for pregnant employees:
- Providing longer, more frequent, or flexible restroom breaks
- Modifying a policy of no food or drink
- Providing the employee seating, or allowing the employee to stand less frequently
- Limiting the lifting that the employee must do to 17 pounds or less
Pregnant employees are entitled to more accommodations, but for these accommodations, the employer may request certification from the employee’s health care provider. Employers can also claim that they cannot provide the following accommodations due to significant difficulty or expense:
- Job restructuring, including a modified work schedule
- Providing a temporary transfer to a less hazardous position
- Assisting with manual labor
- Offering a flexible schedule for prenatal visits, and
- Any further pregnancy-related conditions that an employee might request
Employees Are Not Required to Disclose Pregnancy to Employers
In Washington, employees do not have to disclose their pregnancy to their employers or potential employer. In some cases, potential employers will refuse to hire a qualified candidate because she is pregnant. Employees do have the right to disclose their pregnancies to their employers, however.
If an employee tells her employer about her pregnancy, the employer cannot treat the employee any differently. Additionally, the employer must provide the pregnant employee with the same temporary disability and/or short-term disability benefits as an employee with another medical condition.
Qualifying for Benefits Under Washington’s Family Leave Act (FLA)
The Washington Family Leave Act (FLA) provides Washington employees with broader protection than the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA allows a pregnant woman to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave off from their work without retribution from their employers.
Under federal law, when a woman takes time off during pregnancy, the pregnancy disability time and the FMLA period will run concurrently. On the other hand, when an employee must take time off of work during the pregnancy due to complications, she will also be entitled to the full 12 weeks through the FLA after she gives birth.
Sometimes employers refuse to allow an employee to take time off through the FLA. Or, they might hire another person to fill out the pregnant employee’s job while using her weeks off after her child’s birth. If your employer has denied you leave to which you’re entitled, Sapphire Legal, PLLC, can fight for your rights as an employee.
Contact Our Experienced Washington Employment Law Firm
Navigating the business world during pregnancy can be difficult. Unfortunately, many employers still discriminate against pregnant women. If you’ve experienced pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, you need an experienced and assertive lawyer representing your interests. Contact Sapphire Legal, PLLC today to schedule your initial consultation.