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Legal protections for pregnant workers

There have been dramatic changes in laws regarding pregnancy in the past 10 years. In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act was added as an amendment to the Civil Rights Act.

Employers cannot discriminate on the basis of pregnancy. The act offers protection from arbitrary dismissal, holding back of benefits given other temporarily disabled employees, and such behavior as ''hiding'' a pregnant receptionist in a back office.

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An official at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says compliance with the 1978 act has been fairly high. As soon as the act was passed, many insurance companies informed employers of the changes that must be made in company policies affecting disabilities.

Arkie Byrd, a staff lawyer for the Women's Legal Defense Fund in Washington, D.C., says that while businesses are complying, there are still some that do not.

''Part of the problem is that women are not informed on how the law operates, '' says Ms. Byrd. ''We get questions such as 'Does my employer owe me disability pay?' or 'Am I entitled to the same job I left?' The answer to both depends on how the employer treats other disability cases.''

She coaches women who suspect discrimination to analyze other situations.

''If they allow a person out with a broken leg to come back to his or her same job, and they don't accord the same privilege to a woman on maternity leave , they are breaking the law,'' Ms. Byrd says.

For more information, women can contact their local office of the EEOC, their state fair-employment division, or various women's groups.

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