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Pregnant in the Workplace

Apr 12th, 2022

While becoming pregnant is usually joyful and exciting for women, it can be difficult to navigate how to handle pregnancy with an employer. You may be asking yourself a host of questions depending on your situation:

  • When should I tell my boss I’m pregnant?
  • What if I have a high-risk pregnancy that requires workplace restrictions?
  • Will my employer get upset when I request maternity leave after I have my baby?
  • How much time can I take off work after having my baby?
  • What if I have a difficult labor and delivery and need to take more time off than planned to recover?
  • How will I handle pumping breast milk at work?
  • What if people at work treat me differently once they know I will be a new parent and will have less time to devote to work than before?

Fortunately, many state and federal laws are in place to protect pregnant workers. It is illegal in any state for an employer to harass, fire, or otherwise discrimination against a person on the basis of pregnancy or childbirth. Colorado has enacted more stringent protections for pregnant workers: employers must provide reasonable accommodations for any health conditions related to pregnancy or the physical recovery from childbirth. These accommodations may include more frequent or longer breaks, lifting limitations, or, if available, light duty or temporary transfer to a less strenuous position.

Pregnancy complications or related medical conditions during or after pregnancy, like gestational diabetes, may qualify for protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). These protections can be different than those available under laws specifically protecting pregnant workers.

If certain conditions are met, pregnant workers requesting time off may be entitled to 12 weeks of leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The 12 weeks of leave under the FMLA can be used for the birth and care of an employee’s newborn child. If FMLA leave is taken, the employer must return the pregnant worker to the same or similar position held before taking leave. This means that the pay, benefits, and conditions of employment must be equivalent. When a worker is entitled to FMLA leave, it is unlawful for employers to interfere with the right to take that leave.

Federal law requires that employers with more than 50 employees to provide nursing mothers with unpaid breaks to express breast milk for a year after the birth of a child; employees must be given a private space to express milk other than a bathroom. Colorado law offers greater protection: public and private employers with one or more employees must provide break time each day to allow an employee to express breast milk for a nursing child for up to two years after the child’s birth.

Pregnant workers may encounter difficulty at their job because of biases colleagues and supervisors may have about how women with family caregiving responsibilities should act. For example. employers often discriminate against mothers, believing mothers will not be as dedicated to their jobs, that they should be home with their children, or that they will cost the employer more money.

Understanding your legal rights during and after pregnancy is critical to protect your health and job. If you believe you have been subject to discrimination or have been refused accommodations related to your pregnancy, it can be helpful to seek advice to understand your legal options. The attorneys at Ogborn Mihm are available to confidentially speak with you about your situation.