Despite laws intended to end workplace pregnancy discrimination, thousands of women face employer discrimination related to their pregnancies every year. Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace involves an adverse job action taken against an employee based on their pregnancy, childbirth, or pregnancy-related condition. Some examples include termination, demotion, denial of employment, denial of accommodations, restriction of pregnancy leave, and workplace retaliation. Thankfully, the California Fair Housing and Employment Act (“FEHA”), which applies to companies with five or more employees, prohibits any and all forms of pregnancy-related discrimination. The law also prohibits employers, or co-workers, from harassing workers on the basis of pregnancy.
Additionally, pregnant employees are often unable to perform certain tasks or job duties due to pregnancy or a pregnancy-related medical condition (including, for example, prenatal/postnatal care, severe morning sickness, post-partum depression, gestational diabetes or pregnancy-related hypertension). For example, a pregnant employee may not be able to lift heavy objects or stand or sit for long periods of time, or they may need frequent bathroom breaks or be afforded privacy to express breast milk. Fortunately, the FEHA explicitly requires qualifying employers to provide reasonable accommodations for women who are unable to perform certain tasks or job duties due to pregnancy or a pregnancy-related medical condition. Under the FEHA, employers have an affirmative duty to engage in an interactive process with pregnant employees to determine what reasonable accommodations may be needed. To obtain a workplace accommodation, you will likely be required to provide your employer with a note from your doctor stating that the accommodation is medically necessary. Similarly, your employer is entitled to obtain a medical justification for the accommodation.
Furthermore, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), and Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) offer job protection before and after the birth of a child. Depending on your eligibility, all three leaves guarantee reinstatement to the same or equivalent position when you return to work unless the employer can prove that you would not have been eligible for reinstatement for reason unrelated to your leave. Relatedly, if you work for an employer that has more than five employees, you may qualify for wage replacements benefits through California’s Paid Family Leave program (“PFL.”) Wage replacement benefits under the PFL typically equal between 60%-70% of your gross wages, earned 5-18 months before your claim start date, for up to 8 weeks within any 12-month period. There is no length of service requirement before an employee becomes entitled to PDL.
If you believe you have been subjected to pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, you have the right to take legal action against your employer and may be entitled recovery of any lost income or benefits associated with your employment. We have broad experience representing employees in civil litigation in both state and federal courts, as well as in mediations and administrative hearings before boards and commissions like the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).