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The Rights of Pregnant Workers

Most employment lawyers see pregnancy as a temporary disability. It can very often affect a woman’s ability to perform parts of her job, but only on a temporary basis, meaning that the accommodations she might require will be different than those required by someone with a long-term or permanent impairment. Still, very often the rights of such employees are overlooked or misinterpreted by employers. It is often left up to you to speak out about what you deserve.

State vs. Federal Law

In some instances, South Carolina law deviates from federal in substantial ways, but sometimes they are functionally identical. In matters of disability (both permanent and temporary) South Carolina’s law all but mirrors the federal Civil Rights Act, most particularly Title VII. This includes its amendments, more specifically the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), codified into South Carolina law as part of the South Carolina Human Affairs Law.

The PDA states that pregnancy must be treated in the identical manner as any other temporary disability. This includes situations dealing with benefits or leave, which historically have been potential bones of contention. Very often, pregnancy was seen as a choice, or that it somehow made women “less able” to perform their jobs, but the crux of the matter is that even if this were to be true (as it may be temporarily), this does not leave a woman with no right to work or hold a job. Cases in the 1970s such as Cleveland Board of Education v. Lafleur helped to bring this issue to the forefront, highlighting the issue of pregnancy as it references broader-reaching sexism. It culminated in the passage of the PDA in 1978.


Pregnant women are entitled, under the law, to a number of specific benefits. They include:

  • Not being terminated on account of a pregnancy
  • Not being forced to take maternity leave
  • Being reinstated in the same manner as any other temporarily disabled employee if they do elect to take maternity leave
  • Receiving seniority credit during leave in the same manner as any other employee who takes medical leave, among others

It is important to remember that the PDA and Title VII do extend some childbirth-related benefits to men, as well; for example, fathers who elect to take paternity leave are covered under the Civil Rights Act.

South Carolina’s specific state law applies to all employers with more than fifteen employees, except for “bona fide private membership clubs”, of which there are still a handful, though their numbers have steadily decreased over time. Not unlike the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), an employer must comply with the provisions of the PDA if the employee completes the appropriate paperwork. Failure to do so will very often incur the wrath of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

An Employment Lawyer Can Help

If you are pregnant and you believe that you have been passed over for a job or unjustly treated at your job solely on that basis, you may have a case of pregnancy discrimination on your hands. An employment discrimination lawyer may be able to help you clear up any questions. Attorney A. Christopher Potts has years of experience helping pregnant women and others who have been denied the rights they are due, and is happy to help you determine the right path toward yours. Contact the Charleston office of Hitchcock & Potts today at 843-577-5000 or complete our web form to schedule a free consultation.

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