Managing human resources at a small- or medium-sized organization can be challenging. After all, not only must you recruit and retain talented workers, but you also must comply with an exceedingly complex set of federal, state and local employment laws without the assistance of in-house counsel.

One federal law, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, prohibits most employers from discriminating against pregnant women and new mothers. If you oversee human resources at your company, you must be careful to avoid pregnancy discrimination.

What is pregnancy discrimination?

Pregnancy discrimination involves treating female applicants or employees differently because of pregnancy, childbirth or some medical condition that relates to pregnancy or childbirth. Taking any type of adverse employment action for any of these reasons is likely off limits. Among others, this prohibition includes terminating employment, refusing to hire and failing to promote.

Which employers must comply?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reminds employers that the Pregnancy Discrimination Act only applies to employers that have 15 or more employees. Still, other laws that protect pregnant women and new mothers may apply to an even larger set of employers.

Does the law only apply to supervisors?

Because as many as 85% of women are likely to become mothers during their careers, supervisors have an incentive to curtail pregnancy-related discrimination. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act does not only apply to supervisors, though.

In fact, it prevents all workplace harassment based on pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition. Consequently, whether a coworker, supervisor or essentially anyone else harasses an employee, you may have a duty to investigate and intervene.