'Can My Employer Withhold My Bonus Because I Went on Maternity Leave?' | Working Mother

'Can My Employer Withhold My Bonus Because I Went on Maternity Leave?'

We ask a legal expert if this mom was a victim of pregnancy discrimination—and how she can fight back.

Pregnant woman on phone

Getting pregnant may have cost three moms $500 each.

Photo: iStock

Q: "At our small doctor’s office, two of my co-workers and I became pregnant last year and used five weeks each of short-term disability. Our employer hired temps to cover for us and later gave a $500 bonus to the remaining staff to show his appreciation for NOT getting pregnant. Is this legal?"

A: Um, probably not. “Federal law prohibits an employer to treat any employee differently in the terms and conditions of her employment because of gender, pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition,” says Gregory S. Chiarello, an employment lawyer at Outten & Golden LLP.

Since only the new moms missed out on the bonus, Chiarello thinks your boss likely violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids employers from discriminating against employees based on gender and gender-stereotyping (like assuming expecting and new mothers are less dedicated to their work). The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 specifically bans discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. There might even be more state or local laws that your employer also may have broken.

You and your colleagues should first consult with a lawyer to make a plan, says Chiarello. One option: Write a formal complaint to your employer, explaining why you think you were discriminated against, and ask for the bonus. If that doesn’t work, you can also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a similar state or local office.

If you’re worried about your boss’s reaction, remember: “Federal law and most state and local laws prohibit retaliation against employees for engaging in any of the above complaint procedures,” says Chiarello.


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