Pregnant woman working on her computer

Invisible Bias: Subtle Signs of Pregnancy Discrimination at Work

By Douglas Lipsky

Pregnancy should be a time of anticipation and joy, but for working women in New York City, it becomes a period marred by discrimination. Pregnancy discrimination remains a significant yet often unaddressed issue in some workplaces. This form of bias can manifest in both subtle and overt ways, making it crucial for employees and employers alike to recognize the signs. Let’s take a look at the subtle and not-so-subtle signs of pregnancy discrimination and how you can fight back. 

Understanding Pregnancy Discrimination

Pregnancy discrimination occurs when an employee faces unfair treatment, exclusion, or disadvantages solely due to their pregnancy or related conditions. This discrimination is not just an ethical concern but also a legal one, violating federal and state laws designed to protect pregnant employees. It can present itself in two primary forms: subtle and overt. 

Subtle discrimination includes indirect actions or behaviors that may not be immediately recognized as discriminatory, while overt discrimination involves clear, direct actions against pregnant employees. Both types can create a hostile and unwelcoming work environment, impacting the employee’s career, health, and overall well-being. 

Subtle Signs of Pregnancy Discrimination

While overt discrimination is often unmistakable, subtle signs can be more challenging to identify. Being aware of these can help in early recognition and action. Some of these subtle signs include:

  • Unjustified Exclusion from Meetings or Projects: If a pregnant employee is suddenly left out of important meetings or projects without a valid reason, it could be a sign of discrimination.
  • Sudden Change in Attitude from Management or Coworkers: A noticeable shift in behavior from supportive to distant or dismissive by supervisors or colleagues might indicate underlying biases.
  • Lack of Accommodations for Pregnancy-Related Needs: Failure to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy-related health issues or doctor’s appointments can be a form of subtle discrimination.
  • Inequitable Performance Evaluations: If performance reviews become unfairly critical post-pregnancy announcement, it could be a sign of bias.
  • Subtle Remarks or Jokes About Pregnancy: Offhand comments or ‘jokes’ about a person’s pregnancy can contribute to a hostile work environment.

These signs are often overlooked or dismissed as minor issues, but they can have a profound impact on a pregnant employee’s experience at work.

Overt Discrimination: The More Obvious Indicators

Overt pregnancy discrimination is more direct and easier to recognize. These are actions that blatantly violate the rights of pregnant employees. Examples include:

  • Demotion or Reduction in Responsibilities: Demoting a pregnant employee or significantly reducing their responsibilities without a legitimate business reason is a clear sign of discrimination.
  • Unjustified Dismissal: Terminating an employee due to their pregnancy or related conditions is not only discriminatory but also illegal.
  • Denial of Maternity Leave: Refusing to grant maternity leave that the employee is legally entitled to is a direct violation of their rights.
  • Salary Reductions or Denied Promotions: Reducing the salary or denying promotions solely based on pregnancy status constitutes overt discrimination.

These actions are not only unethical but also illegal under various federal and state laws. Pregnant employees facing such blatant discrimination have the right to seek legal redress. 

Legal Recourse and Protection

Pregnant employees in New York have powerful legal recourse against discrimination. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) as well as state and city human rights laws provide a framework that prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. 

Victims of pregnancy discrimination have the right to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and, if necessary, pursue legal action. By doing so, not only can the affected individuals address their grievances but also help to eliminate discriminatory practices in the workplace.

Fighting Back Against Pregnancy Discrimination

Recognizing and addressing pregnancy discrimination is essential for creating a fair and inclusive work environment. While some signs are overt and clear, others are subtler, making them harder to detect but equally impactful. If you suspect that you’re a victim of pregnancy discrimination, talk to an experienced employment lawyer.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.