Pregnancy is a life changing event. During pregnancy, mothers may experience significant change in many aspects of daily life, including life at work. While some pregnant women are able to navigate their jobs with minimal interference, others may face challenges in fulfilling their work duties. This can be especially true for women in physically demanding manual labor jobs, or with underlaying related medical conditions.
Pregnant employees are protected at work under Federal and California state laws. By law, pregnant workers are protected from harassment and pregnancy discrimination at work, have a right to work adjustments as needed, and have a right to take medically necessary leave. Despite legal protections, some pregnant working women still experience workplace harassment and discrimination, are forced out of their positions simply for asking for minimal accommodations, and or are denied accommodations.
If you are pregnant, have been pregnant, or may become pregnant, it is important to know your rights in the workplace. Pregnancy should not be a barrier to professional success or job security. The state and federal laws in place are designed to protect pregnant workers and ensure they receive the necessary accommodations to navigate their work responsibilities.
Federal and California laws, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), prohibit pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and offer crucial protections to pregnant workers. California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law, the California Family Rights Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), offer pregnant employees the right to take job-protected leave.
Harassment or discrimination against pregnant workers, or workers who intend to become pregnant, is strictly prohibited by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), and the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”). Employers are explicitly barred from engaging in any form of discrimination or harassment against employees on the grounds of their pregnancy, or for making maternity leave requests.
Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
If you experience a medical condition arising from your pregnancy, you are legally entitled to request an accommodation. Subsequently, your employer is obligated to participate in a genuine and cooperative interactive process to facilitate the requested accommodations. Under the FEHA, reasonable accommodations may include modified light duties, adjusted work schedules and break time, temporary transfer, permitted time off for health care provider visits, and unpaid leave, among other potential accommodations that do not cause undue hardship to the employer. Note that the FEHA applies only to companies employing 5 or more employees.
Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDL)
If you are a pregnant worker, you may qualify for up to four months of protected leave under California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (“PDL”). This provision provides job-protected leave for employees deemed “disabled” by pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions. The term “disabled by pregnancy” encompasses situations where an employee is unable to perform essential functions or faces undue risk to herself or her child in her line of work.
Importantly, an employee with a pregnancy-related disability does not need to meet any length-of-service requirement to be entitled to PDL; an employee is eligible for PDL on their first day of work. The law extends coverage to “eligible female employees,” including transgender employees who identify as male and are pregnant.
If a pregnant employee is not deemed “disabled” but rather “affected by pregnancy,” they are, under law, entitled to reasonable accommodation by the employer.
Under PDLL a full-time pregnant employee can take up to four months of leave when disabled by pregnancy, and this applies to each pregnancy. The leave does not have to be taken continuously, allowing employees to take leave as needed, intermittently, or on a reduced work schedule as advised by their healthcare provider.
Once a pregnant employee requests accommodation or leave under the PDL, employers must respond within 10 calendar days.
California Family Rights Act
Pregnant workers my qualify for up to 12 weeks of job protected leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). CFRA leave may be taken following the conclusion of a Pregnancy Disability Leave. CFRA can be requested during pregnancy or at the birth of your child.
CFRA extends its coverage to all new parents including adoptive parents, and foster parents. If partners work at the same company, both parents are entitled to 12 weeks of job-protected baby bonding time-off under the CFRA.
Eligible employees must have worked at their job for over 12 months, and must work at a company with 5 or more employees. In order to receive CFRA leave, eligible employees must provide verbal notice indicating the need for CFRA-qualifying leave, along with the anticipated timing and duration of the leave. Employers can request at least 30 days’ advance notice before the commencement of family and medical leave if it is anticipated, such as the expected birth of a child or planned medical treatment. The employee must consult with the employer and make a reasonable effort to schedule any planned medical treatment to minimize disruption to company operations, subject to approval from the healthcare provider.
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Pregnancy is not considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), however, certain pregnant workers may experience one or more impairments associated with their pregnancy that meet the criteria for a “disability” under the ADA. In such cases, it may be necessary for the employer to supply a reasonable accommodation to address the pregnancy related disability.
Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)
The Fair Labor Standards Act mandates that employers provide eligible employees with reasonable break time to pump for their nursing child during the first year after birth. This law requires employers to permit eligible employees the flexibility to pump whenever necessary. Additionally, employees are entitled to a designated, private, non-bathroom, space for pumping at work.
Pregnant workers must proactively communicate their pregnancy accommodation needs to their employers. Employers should initiate an interactive process, considering the employee’s personal needs and preferences. While the law does not mandate the exact accommodation requested, employers must provide a comparable solution. Employers can request a doctor’s note confirming accommodation needs without delving into personal medical details.
Accommodations extend beyond pregnancy itself and can include conditions like anemia, morning sickness, leg swelling, sciatica, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, or prenatal/postpartum depression.
Examples of reasonable accommodations include reduced physical work, seated work, remote work, breastfeeding and lactation facilities, and schedule adjustments.
It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee for requesting accommodations or paid leave in relation to their pregnancy. Employers cannot use the taking of leave as a negative factor in any employment action, nor can it be used against an employee under any attendance policy. All individuals, not just those qualified to take leave, are protected from retaliation for opposing (complaining about) any practice prohibited by the leave law.
If you find yourself facing resistance or discrimination related to your pregnancy at work, consulting with a pregnancy discrimination lawyer is the first step towards asserting your rights and seeking the justice you deserve.