Employment Law Issues For Women

The following information was discussed by Attorney Whitney Hughes on the October 5, 2010 edition of Legal Briefs on KDKA's Pittsburgh Today Live Show.

Below are some of the most common questions coming from women who are either having difficulty with their current employers or are facing uncomfortable situations while looking for a job, and some helpful tips to keep in mind.

I have a job interview scheduled but I’m just back to work after having a baby. What kinds of questions can the employer ask me and how much do I have to tell them?

Any question which inquires as to one’s gender may not be asked.

  • What are your plans regarding having children in the near future?
  • Do you mind having a male/ female supervisor?
  • Can you work with a group of men/ women?

Any question relating to your marital or family status can’t be asked

  • Are you married? Divorced? Widowed?
  • With whom do you live?
  • Do your children live with you?
  • What ages are your children?
  • Is your husband/ wife in the military?

The employer can:

  • ask questions about your ability to start work at a particular time
  • explain that the job requires travel/ flexible scheduling/ late hours and ask if you are willing to take those on

I’m pregnant and am worried about taking time off from work. Can my employer require me to take time off, and if he does can I still come back to work later? How does the Family and Medical Leave Act work?

First, pregnancy discrimination is illegal.

An employer may not single out pregnancy-related conditions for special procedures to determine an employee's ability to work. You must be permitted to work as long as you can perform your job. If you have been absent from work as a result of a pregnancy-related condition and recover, your employer can’t require you to remain on leave until the baby's birth.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that your group health benefits be maintained during the leave.

FMLA applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees. These employers must provide an eligible employee with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for any of the following reasons:

  • for the birth and care of the newborn child of an employee;
  • for placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care;
  • to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or
  • to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.

Employees are eligible for leave if they have worked for their employer at least 12 months, at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

I’m one of only three women in our company. We all constantly endure jeers and comments and are very uncomfortable coming to work. We’re reluctant to go to our supervisor because he is friendly with the male co-workers. What can we do?

Sexual harassment comes in many forms in the workplace, but generally it’s legally split into two types: quid pro quo sexual harassment and hostile environment.

Quid pro quo harassment means “something for something”- you do something for me and I’ll do something for you. This basically means that job benefits are tied to submitting to sexual advances or are denied because of refusing them.

This scenario sounds more like hostile environment harassment. In this case, employees are subjected to comments of a sexual nature, offensive sexual materials, or unwelcome physical contact as a regular part of the work environment. Usually, a single isolated incident isn’t considered hostile environment harassment unless it is extremely outrageous and egregious conduct. The courts look to see whether the conduct is both serious and frequent.

Supervisors and managers, can be responsible for creating a hostile environment if they are aware it is happening and do nothing to prevent it.

Your first response should be to notify your supervisor/employer. You would then have the option of going through your workplace channels, or if that is not successful, filing a complaint or a lawsuit.


  • Document, Document, Document – put everything in writing and establish a paper trail. If you are having difficulty with a supervisor or co-worker, file a written complaint. Memories can fail and you are much better off having an actual record of what has transpired.
  • If you feel that a prospective employer is asking questions in an interview that are inappropriate you can and should refuse to answer them.
  • With respect to any type of pregnancy discrimination or FMLA claim, again, follow your internal procedure for reporting complaints and then speak with an attorney to ensure your rights are protected.

As always, for a referral to an attorney practicing in the areas we’ve discussed today, contact the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555, or visit their web site at www.acbalrs.org