This guide was created to help employees with pregnancy-related issues in the workplace.
If you are experiencing pregnancy discrimination, you are not alone. Pregnancy discrimination is a growing problem in California. Our firm has been helping employees and executives with pregnancy discrimination since 1999.
California Pregnancy Discrimination
An employer engages in pregnancy discrimination whenever it treats a woman unfavorably at work due to her pregnancy, plans to become pregnant, pregnancy-related medical issues or childbirth. California pregnancy discrimination can comes in various forms such as:
- failure to promote;
- failure to provide accommodations or leave for pregnancy-related medical conditions;
- refusal to hire;
- job assignments;
- education and training;
- bonuses and benefits; or
- any other aspect of employment.
The California Fair Housing and Employment Act and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibit any form of pregnancy-related discrimination. These powerful laws provide for the recovery of any lost income or benefits, penalties and the recovery of any costs or legal fees incurred. See below for summaries of a few California pregnancy discrimination cases.
$6.2 MILLION VERDICT FOR CALIFORNIA PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION AND HARASSMENT
In this case, three women sued their employer for pregnancy discrimination after they were harassed and fired after revealing their pregnancies.
UTILITY COMPANY LIABLE FOR PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION
An attorney for a public utility company had a high-risk pregnancy and needed the ability to telecommute and take occasional bedrest. The employer refused to provide these accommodations. When the attorney returned to work after maternity leave, the company retaliated against her by giving her an unwarranted negative performance review and removed some of her responsibilities. The company was found liable for $92,000 in damages.
AUTOZONE HIT WITH $185 MILLION VERDICT FOR CALIFORNIA PREGNANCY DISCRIMINATION
The auto parts company demoted an employee after she became pregnant and then fired her after she filed a California pregnancy discrimination suit. The jury was outraged by the companies conduct and held them liable for a $185 million in punitive damages.
Workplace Accommodations for Pregnant Workers
Pregnant employees are often unable to perform each and every aspect of their job. For example, a pregnant employee may not be able to lift heavy objects or stand or sit for long periods of time, and they may need frequent water or bathroom breaks. Other common pregnancy-related medical issues include morning sickness, gestational diabetes, pregnancy-related hypertension, post-partum depression, and preeclampsia. Fortunately, The California Fair Employment and Housing Act requires companies to provide reasonable accommodations to assist pregnant workers with their job duties. Here are some of the workplace accommodations often provided to workers with pregnancy-related medical issues:
- The ability to take frequent breaks to use the restroom, drink water, take medications or rest;
- A stool or chair
- Temporary job reassignment or the modification of job duties
- The modification or work equipment or machinery
- Assistance with physically demanding tasks
- Schedule modifications such as flexible hours or telecommuting
- Ergonomic office furniture; and
- Leave of absence (see below for more on pregnancy disability leave)
In order to obtain a workplace accommodation, you may need a note from your doctor stating that the accommodation is medically necessary. Your employer is entitled to obtain a medical justification for the accommodation. Employers are required to engage in an interactive process with pregnancy employees to determine an appropriate and reasonable accommodation. This usually involves a dialogue between you and your employer. Someone from your medical team may also participate in such conversations.
Pregnant employees are sometimes subjected to retaliatory behavior by their employer after they request workplace accommodations. These employers try to punish employees for exercising their rights. Examples of this behavior include firing a pregnant employee after she requests a workplace accommodation, demoting them to a lower position or reducing their compensation or other work-related benefit or perk. Retaliation is expressly prohibited under California and Federal law.
California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Act
California is one of the few states that has a pregnancy disability leave law. Known as the Pregnancy Disability Leav Act, the law applies to all employees no matter how long they worked for the company as long as the company has 5 or more employees. However, employees of non-profit and religious organizations are exempt.
Eligible California employees are entitled to take up to 4 months off under The Pregnancy Disability Leave Act. An employee is entitled to take pregnancy disability leave if they have a pregnancy-related disability that renders them unable to perform the essential functions of their job or if performing the job would put the employee or her pregnancy at risk. Here are a few examples of conditions that may entitle a person to pregnancy disability leave:
- Postpartum depression
- Recovery from childbirth
- Loss of a pregnancy
- Gestational diabetes
- Pregnancy-related hypertension
- Prenatal care
- Severe morning sickness
Contact your employer if you are suffering from a pregnancy-related disability and cannot perform your job or feel that your health or your pregnancy is at risk. Your employer may request a note or certification from your doctor. The California pregnancy discrimination laws prohibit any form of retaliation.
THE FAMILY AND MEDICAL LEAVE ACT (“FMLA”)
In addition to the Pregnancy Disability Leave Act, you may also have rights under the FMLA. The FMLA only applies to companies with 50 or more employees that work within 75 miles of each other. Also, an employee has to work 1250 hours before they are entitled to FMLA leave. Employees covered by the FMLA have the right to 90 days of leave if they have a medical condition requiring leave. Pregnancy-related medical conditions normally qualify under the FMLA. Your employer can require that your FMLA and PDL leave run concurrently if they inform you of this. But if they don’t, the leave can run consecutively meaning that a person can take 4 months of PDL leave and then 3 months of leave under the FMLA.
PAID PREGNANCY LEAVE
In California, you can receive part of your pay while out on pregnancy leave through the state’s Paid Family Leave program. You can get up to 4 weeks of disability insurance benefits before delivery and up to 8 weeks after delivery. Here is more information about this program. San Francisco employees are entitled to additional compensation that covers 6 weeks of bonding time. Here is more information on San Francisco’s Paid Parental Leave Ordinance.
California Pregnancy Discrimination Resources
- Pregnancy Discrimination overview by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- Types of Pregnancy Discrimination by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- Legal Rights of Pregnant Workers under Federal Law by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
- Pregnancy Leave Disability Leave FAQ by the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing
- Your Rights and Obligations as a Pregnant Employee by the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing
- Find an employment lawyer in your area: National Employment Lawyers Association
THE OTTINGER FIRM, P.C.
California Employment Lawyers
We help employees with California pregnancy discrimination cases. Call us for a free telephone consultation where we will go over your situation to see if we can assist you.