Can I Get Fired for Being Pregnant?
- You may not be discriminated against for being pregnant.
- You can be fired (sacked) while pregnant, but not because of the pregnancy.
- Your protected period starts as soon as you notify your employer that you are pregnant.
- ⚖️ Should I get an abortion? Take the Abortion Test
Protection Against Unfair Dismissal While Pregnant
❗ Pregnancy is a protected status preventing you from unfair dismissal, even if you are an at-will employee. Pregnancy is an illegal reason for firing.
This includes poor performance due to pregnancy-related fatigue, taking time off for antenatal appointments or pregnancy classes, intention to take maternity leave, or breastfeeding.
Laws also protect you from unfair treatment such as reduced hours, demotion, and being overlooked for promotions and training.
Pregnancy discrimination falls under the same laws as sex discrimination since only women can get pregnant.
Anti-discrimination laws are in place, whether you are:
Click on your country to identify your pregnancy rights and discrimination laws:
- The Constitution of South Africa:
- Sections 9(3) and 9(4): No person may be discriminated against or dismissed on account of pregnancy.
- The Employment Equity Act (EEA)
- Section 6: Prohibition against discrimination on the grounds of pregnancy.
- The Unemployment Insurance Act (UIA)
- The Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA)
- The Labour Relations Act (LRA) Basic Conditions of Employment Act Section 185-187(1)(e)
- Prohibition against the dismissal of an employee for any reason related to her pregnancy. Illegal dismissals can be punished by 24 months' wages.
- The Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees During Pregnancy and After the Birth of a Child
- Promotion of Equality and Prevention of Unfair Discrimination Act (Act 4 of 2000)
- The Constitution of South Africa:
- The Human Rights Act 1993 (“HRA”)
- The Parental Leave and Employment Protection Act 1987 (“PLEPA”):
- No employer may terminate the employment of any employee because of her pregnancy, her indicating that she wishes to take parental leave, or during either her absence on parental leave or the period of 26 weeks following the end of the parental leave.
- The Canadian Human Rights Act (the Act)
- Canada Labour Code
- If your workplace is under federal jurisdiction, such as banks, post offices, transportation services, and public media, your rights are protected under these federal laws.
- Territorial practices differ slightly.
- E.g., Ontario's Employment Standards Act (EST) gives you "protective leave" provisions if you have been employed for more than 13 weeks.
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA)
- Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)
- Claims for unfair dismissal must be filed with the EEOC.
- Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Amendment of 2008:
- Employers are required to provide necessary accommodations to pregnant women with pregnancy-related conditions that qualify as disabilities.
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (passed house in 2021)
- This bill would obligate employers to make accommodations for employees affected by pregnancy.
Pregnancy is a protected status preventing you from unfair dismissal, even if you are an at-will employee. Pregnancy is an illegal reason for firing someone.
How Long Am I Protected from Being Fired?
Pregnancy never ceases to be a protected status. Therefore, you are always protected from being fired for reasons such as pregnancy, maternity leave, or breastfeeding. If you give proper notice of your maternity leave, your employer must hold your position for you, equal to any employee on sick or disability leave.
Some regions, such as the UK, specify a protected period, which starts when you announce the pregnancy to your employer and ends upon your return from maternity leave. You are given extra protection and preference in the workplace during this time.
Unfortunately, this does not make you immune to being let go during pregnancy.
Valid Reasons for Dismissal During Pregnancy
While the law prevents employers from treating pregnant employees at a disadvantage, you can be fired for reasons unrelated to your pregnancy:
You can lose your job for a valid reason unrelated to your pregnancy, such as failure to do the job, misconduct, unexcused absences, and insubordination.
Undue Hardship/ Key Position
In the US, pregnancy protection laws only apply to businesses with more than 15 people. A small business is not required to hold your position while you are on maternity leave if they can prove that this would create an undue hardship for them. Similarly, Canada’s pregnancy law mainly applies to employers under federal authority.
Your job may be considered a key position, which requires special skills. If training or finding a temporary employee to fill your position during your maternity leave proves too time intensive, your employer may not be obligated to hold your position for you. In the UK you would enter a 26-week “period of preference” at the end of your maternity leave. If during this time, your employer posts a job like yours, he must offer it to you, first.
Retrenchment / Redundancy / Bankruptcy
While retrenchment, redundancy, and bankruptcy are legal reasons for dismissal, your employer is obligated to prove that his decision was not guided by pregnancy-related bias. If you are fired because of retrenchment or redundancy after notifying your employer of your pregnancy, you can file for unfair dismissal.
In the UK you would be given a “period of preference” of 26 weeks, during which your employer must offer you any job openings similar to your current job.
While the law prevents employers from treating pregnant employees at a disadvantage, you can be fired for reasons unrelated to your pregnancy. You can claim unfair dismissal if you notified your employer in writing about your pregnancy before your layoff.
Unfair Dismissal During Pregnancy
If your job was terminated because you took or intended to take maternity leave or for any other pregnancy-related reason, you may claim unfair dismissal and discrimination.
❗You can only claim unfair dismissal if you notified your employer in writing about your pregnancy before your layoff. Otherwise, you have no proof that your employer may have acted upon the knowledge of your pregnancy.
Some regions impose a time limit of six months for making your claim and limit hearings to employees who have worked a minimum of 12 consecutive months.
Resigning During Pregnancy
While it is illegal for you to be fired for pregnancy-related reasons, you have the right to resign from your position during your pregnancy or maternity leave. Nonetheless, you are obligated to give notice according to your contract.
⚠️ Handing in a resignation letter while pregnant should be weighed carefully. You are likely to lose job-related benefits and any claim to unfair dismissal.
If you feel pressured or forced by your employer to resign you are experiencing constructive dismissal. This is just as illegal as unfair dismissal.
A UK resident who resigns during maternity leave will continue receiving Statutory Maternity Pay until the end of the 39-week period.
How Will They React?
Even though you are protected from being fired due to pregnancy, you may be concerned about how your colleagues and boss will react to your news.
Maybe your relationship was already strained. Or your employer’s ambitions for you cannot be achieved due to the pregnancy. Or you are anticipating his bad reaction for some other reason.
One thing is clear: Your employer hired you knowing you could get pregnant. There is no reason to feel bad about it. He has no justification for unkind treatment!
If you are worried that your employer will discriminate against you because you are pregnant, informing them in writing is a good idea. This provides proof that your employer knows you are pregnant and protects you against unfair dismissal.
Are you facing hardship after informing your employer of the pregnancy? Go to Protection Against Unfair Dismissals for links to legal advice. If you are part of a union, you will also find assistance there.
Even if your boss will not see it, you are contributing an invaluable service to society by providing for its future. This is incomparable to the work hours lost due to maternity leave. You and your baby are worth it!
Where Do I Go from Here?
Hopefully, this article has already provided some clarity and relief regarding your job situation. Whether you stay in the workforce or leave your current employment, we understand that finances can be a concern. Check out our financial and material resources pages:
Perhaps you have additional concerns about your pregnancy that were not addressed here. Feel free to check out our homepage. We specialize in providing pregnancy-related information and free digital coaching. Our professional counselors have designed tests that serve as decision-making tools, enabling you to discover your unique path:
- Are you dealing with a specific concern? 💡 Take the Solution Finder Test
- Discover your hidden strengths by taking our 💪 Strength Finder Test
- Find out what type of mother you will be by taking our 👥 Personality Test
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While profemina aims to provide general legal information, we cannot guarantee its accuracy.