Know Your Rights for Pregnant and Breastfeeding Workers

You should not have to choose between having a family and keeping your job. This guide talks about common problems you may face at work when you are pregnant or breastfeeding and what your legal rights are in Pennsylvania 

Because the laws apply only to certain employers and employees, you should check with a lawyer if you think your rights have been violated.

    I found out I’m pregnant. I want to tell my employer, but I’m afraid of how my boss will respond. What are my rights?

    Employers with 15 or more employees cannot treat you worse because you are pregnant.

    Your employer cannot fire you because you are pregnant and can’t make your job so miserable that you are unable to do your job or feel that your only option is to quit.

    If you are looking for work, an employer usually cannot refuse to hire you because you are pregnant.

    What can I do if my coworkers are harassing me because I’m pregnant or breastfeeding?

    Covered employers—all businesses in the city of Philadelphia and all businesses with 4 or more employees outside of Philadelphia—cannot harass workers based on pregnancy, childbirth, pumping breastmilk or related conditions. If your boss, coworkers, or even customers make rude comments, jokes, gestures, or pictures that are related to you being pregnant or nursing, this may be against the law.

    If you feel uncomfortable or harassed, you should report the problem to your human resources department or your boss.

    If you complain to your boss about harassment, your employer must look into your complaints and try to stop the harassment. Your employer can’t punish you for reporting the problem.

    I need light duty, extra restroom breaks, or other changes to my job in order to keep working while I’m pregnant. Does my employer have to make these changes for me?

    Pregnant women often need changes to their jobs—such as light duty, avoiding chemicals or excessive heat, or temporary job reassignment—during their pregnancy. You may have a right to these types of changes to your job.

    Employers with 15 or more employees must treat pregnant workers the same way they treat other workers who need similar temporary changes to their jobs, including temporarily disabled employees.

    If you have a pregnancy-related medical condition, like preeclampsia or gestational diabetes, your employer may be required to provide you a “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This means your employer may have to work with you to see if there is a way to adjust your job (responsibilities, schedule, location, etc.) that will allow you to continue working without causing too much difficulty for your boss or the company.

    Even if you are experiencing a normal pregnancy, your boss has to treat you just as well as other employees who have a disability unrelated to pregnancy (a bad back or a broken arm, for instance). This doesn’t mean that they are required to give you what you ask for, but it does mean that if they made an adjustment for another worker, they have to try to make a similar adjustment for you.

    If your employer tries to deny light duty to pregnant workers, even when they give it to other employees, talk with a lawyer.

    As I get closer to my due date, my employer wants me to take my maternity leave now. I want to keep working. Can my boss make me take leave?

    You have the right to work as long as you are willing and physically able. Workers covered under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)*[1]are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for pregnancy-related reasons. Your boss cannot force you to take FMLA leave or other time off just because you are pregnant.

    Your employer cannot require or pressure you to leave work a specific number of days or weeks before your due date. As long as you are physically able to work, you have the right to decide when to start your leave. You can also request the ability to take FMLA leave intermittently.

    Because the FMLA leave is unpaid, many women choose to use paid time off in addition to (or instead of) FMLA leave. If your employer gives you paid time off, you can use your vacation or sick days for reasons related to your pregnancy or the birth of your child. Your employer may require you to take your paid leave and your FMLA leave at the same time.

    If you normally are able to take your sick leave without a doctor’s note, then you should be able to take pregnancy-related sick leave without a doctor’s note.

    I just had my baby. Now what are my rights?

    Your employer cannot require or pressure you to leave work a specific number of days or weeks before your due date. As long as you are physically able to work, you have the right to decide when to start your leave.

    Workers covered under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)[1] are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for pregnancy-related reasons. Your boss cannot force you to take FMLA leave or other time off just because you are pregnant. You can also request the ability to take FMLA leave intermittently.

    If you need time off after your FMLA leave for follow-up appointments with your doctor or to deal with medical issues related to giving birth, your employer should treat this time off the same way they would treat time off for other temporarily disabled employees. In other words, if other workers were allowed to go to the doctor for follow-up visits after they had used up all of their own FMLA leave, then your employer has to treat you the same way after giving birth.

    When you come back to work from FMLA leave, your employer must give you the same position you held before your pregnancy (or one at a similar pay and level). Your employer must treat your leave of absence the same way they would any other type of leave. This includes when they are determining your seniority (how long you’ve been at your job) or your benefits.”

    I’m still nursing my baby. When I come back to work, can I pump during work hours?

    All employees who work in Philadelphia and hourly workers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act[2] who work outside of Philadelphia have the right to pump breast milk on the job.  You are entitled to:

    (1) Reasonable break time to pump breast milk for your nursing child until your child turns 1 year old; and (2) a private, clean place, other than a bathroom, to pump breast milk.

    Employers do not have to give you paid breaks to pump breast milk. But if you use your paid break time to express milk, then your employer must pay you—in other words, your employer cannot refuse to pay you just because you use your paid breaks for pumping breast milk.

    Your employer should give you a chair and a flat surface, other than the floor, on which to place the pump. Ideally, the space will have an electric outlet so that you can use an electric pump (but your employer is not required to provide that).

    If you complain about problems with the space or time you have to pump at work, your employer must respond appropriately and meet the requirements to provide break time and a private place to pump. If they do not do so, you can file a complaint with the Department of Labor.

    Since I came back to work, my employer is treating me badly. What can I do?

    Employers with 15 or more employees can’t fire you or otherwise punish you for standing up for these rights on the job—including the right to pump on the job, the right not to be harassed in the workplace and the right not to be discriminated against at work because you are pregnant.

    Your employer can’t punish you for asserting your rights or filing a complaint about these issues (for instance, by giving you a less desirable job, taking away your job duties or benefits, or firing you). If your employer does so, you can file a retaliation complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal Department of Labor, or both. You can also go to court. You should talk to a lawyer if you think you’re being retaliated against for asserting your rights.

    I think my rights have been violated. Who can help me?

    If you work in Pennsylvania, you can write, call, or contact us online.

    ACLU of Pennsylvania
    PO Box 60173
    Philadelphia, PA 19102
    877-745-2258
    www.aclupa.org/complaint

    If you work outside of Pennsylvania, you can contact A Better Balance at 212-430-5982.



    [1] The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covers employers with 50 or more employees. Only employees who have worked 1,250 hours in the past year are covered.

    [2] This generally includes most medium-sized and large businesses. If you aren’t sure whether you are covered, contact us to find out.

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