Pregnancy Discrimination

Pregnancy discrimination happens when an employer makes an employment decision based on your pregnancy or intent to become pregnant and not your skills, qualifications, or how well you do your job. Federal, New York State, and New York City laws make pregnancy discrimination by employers illegal.

Federal law protects many workers from being discriminated against based on pregnancy. If you work for (or apply for a job with) an employer that has 15 or more employees, federal law does not allow the employer to base employment decisions on the fact that you are or intend to become pregnant.

New York State and New York City human rights laws cover more cases, and they apply to more employers.

As of February 8, 2020, New York State law prohibits all employers, regardless of size, from making hiring, firing, or other employment decisions based on pregnancy. Before then, New York State law applied to employers with four or more employees. Also, as of October 11, 2019, the protections against pregnancy discrimination in New York State apply to independent contractors.

New York City law prohibits employers with four or more employees from making hiring, firing, or any other employment decisions based on pregnancy. As of January 11, 2020, the protections against pregnancy discrimination in New York City apply to independent contractors.

An employer is not allowed to consider your pregnancy when deciding to hire, fire, pay, give job assignments, promote, lay off, train, change benefits, or affect any other condition of employment. Also, under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), certain larger employers may be required to give you up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during the year after childbirth. Additionally, New York State law provides job-protected Paid Family Leave (PFL) to eligible employees to bond with a newborn child. While you are on such protected leave, your job must generally be held open and you must be given your job back or a similar job with the same benefits when you return.

If you are able to do your job while pregnant, you generally must be allowed to keep working.

However, even if you are impaired or limited in some way by your pregnancy or childbirth, you may still have certain protections. For example, employers may be required to provide reasonable accommodations for medical impairments or complications due to pregnancy or childbirth. Also, regardless of whether you may have a disability or other pregnancy-related medical conditions, New York City law requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnancy. Reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related disabilities and medical conditions may include altering work tasks or work hours; providing bathroom breaks, periodic rest for those who stand for long periods of time, breaks to allow increased water intake, or assistance with manual labor; or offering a leave of absence.

Here are some examples of possible pregnancy discrimination:

  • Before a scheduled promotion, you tell your employer that you are pregnant and your boss assumes that your pregnancy will become a problem and gives the promotion to someone else.
  • You apply for a job that you are qualified for and the interviewer tells you that when women get pregnant, it is “a scheduling nightmare” for the company and its clients. The interviewer knows you are pregnant and you don’t get the job.
  • Your employer starts training all employees, except for you and two other pregnant coworkers, on new equipment or software that is very important for the future plans of the company.
  • Your employer requires pregnant employees to take unpaid leave at a certain month in their pregnancy.
  • You work in New York City and you lose your job because your pregnancy required you to take more bathroom breaks than everyone else.

Legal Editor: Davin P. Cellura, January 2015 (updated June 2020)

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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