What to Know About Pregnancy Discrimination

July 25, 2019

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(This article first appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine) 

Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is when an employer treats an employee or job applicant unfavorably because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. Policies or practices that exclude women from work because they could become pregnant also count as discrimination. Postal employees are protected from pregnancy discrimination by federal law, with rules and policies in the Employee Labor Management handbook (ELM) and the APWU/USPS Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) to enforce rights.

The Law Against Pregnancy Discrimination

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) amended the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and states that pregnancy discrimination constitutes unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. Women who are pregnant or have related conditions must be treated in the same manner as other applicants or employees who are similar in their ability or inability to work. A woman cannot be treated differently concerning hiring and working conditions, pregnancy and maternity leave, and pregnancy and temporary disability, and must retain equal access to benefits.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) also gives eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for the birth or placement of a child for adoption or foster care, to bond with a child – if leave is taken within one year of the child’s birth or placement. Leave does not need to be used in one block. It may be used intermittently or on a reduced schedule when medically necessary or otherwise permitted. The FMLA also protects fathers.

There are also legal protections for a nursing mother. The Affordable Care Act amended Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The law now requires employers to allow reasonable break times for a nursing mother to express milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth. Employers are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public, for an employee to express milk.

Postal Regulations and the APWU Contract

The Postal Service has a number of policies to implement its legal obligations to protect pregnant and nursing employees. These policies are aligned with the processes in the union contract to ensure pregnant employees can access their legal rights. ELM section 513, ‘Sick Leave Administration,’ outlines postal policy on requesting and authorizing the use of sick leave to cover illness or injury when the employee is incapacitated for the performance of duties due to pregnancy. This includes when an absence is required for physical examinations or periods of incapacitation.

The Employee and Labor Relations Manual (ELM) section 515 outlines the postal regulations regarding FMLA implementation, including who is eligible for FMLA protection and how to request FMLA-protected leave. FMLA-protected leave is, under the law, unpaid, but the paid leave provided under the APWU CBA can be used in conjunction with FMLA-protected leave.

A pregnant employee may be able to request a reasonable accommodation to her work or working conditions during her pregnancy. Postal employees qualify if a pregnancy-related condition causes a disability within the meaning of the law. USPS policy is to provide eligible bargaining unit employees who have demonstrated work restrictions resulting from their pregnancies with light duty work consistent with the terms of Article 13. Article 2 of the CBA is management’s acknowledgement of employees’ legal right to be free of discrimination at work, including pregnancy discrimination. All employees are entitled to protection against workplace discrimination regardless of their status. As the Postal Service acknowledges in the Joint Contract Interpretation Manual (JCIM), this means both career employees and PSEs will not be discriminated against by management.

Postal policy reflects the Postal Service’s obligation under the law to protect PSEs from pregnancy discrimination with light duty assignments where appropriate.

Starting or growing your family should bring joy and happiness, not a fear of discrimination, reduction of hours and the possibility of losing your job. Any employee who feels they have been discriminated against by their manager or supervisor because of pregnancy, childbirth or medical conditions related to pregnancy or childbirth should contact their union steward.

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