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The Rights of Pregnant Workers in California

Pregnancy is an emotionally and physically vulnerable time in your life. It shouldn’t be a financially vulnerable one, too. In California, multiple laws protect pregnant people from discrimination by their employers. These laws guarantee specific rights before, during, and after your pregnancy to ensure you are treated fairly and don’t lose your job just because you’re having a child.

The best way to exercise these rights is to understand them. Here’s what you need to know about the rights of pregnant workers in California, what laws protect you, and how to tell if your rights have been violated. 

California Laws Protecting Pregnant Employees

California is one of the best states in the country for expecting parents. Pregnant people are protected by federal laws such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA). They are also covered by multiple state laws that provide more details on what employers must do to accommodate pregnancies. These laws include:

Anti-Discrimination Laws

The federal PDA specifically prohibits discrimination against workers because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medication conditions. Under this law, employers with 15 or more employees cannot take any adverse employment action against workers because of pregnancies or related issues. They must treat these workers the same as non-pregnant employees.

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) reinforces these protections. The bill applies anti-discrimination requirements to companies with five or more employees, covering significantly more workers than the federal bill. 

Reasonable Accommodations 

FEHA also mandates that covered companies provide pregnant workers with reasonable accommodations during and after pregnancy. If someone is disabled because they are pregnant, that disability must be treated like any other impairment. Employers must provide accommodations that enable the person to continue to perform their duties, so long as the modifications don’t create an undue hardship or pose a direct threat to the workplace.

Accommodations can include changes such as:

  • Changing your work schedule to allow you to come in later after morning sickness has passed
  • Relocating your work area away from strong smells that may make you nauseous
  • Adjusting your duties to let you sit down more frequently
  • Providing aid devices such as a more supportive chair to make work less uncomfortable

Pregnancy Disability Leave

Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), workers can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave every twelve months due to pregnancy or childbirth. In addition, California has multiple state laws protecting the rights of workers to take time off for pregnancy-related reasons, including:

  • Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDLL): If you are disabled by being pregnant, this law entitles you to up to four months of disability leave per pregnancy or the maximum amount of time off your employer provides for other disabilities. 
  • California Family Rights Act (CFRA): Under the CFRA, you have the right to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for serious health events, including pregnancy and childbirth.

You’re eligible for leave under the CFRA if:

  • Your employer has five or more employees, or you work for a public agency
  • You’ve worked there for at least twelve months
  • You’ve worked 1250 hours there during those 12 months

In addition, FEHA requires employers to offer you a “reasonable” amount of leave as an accommodation for disabilities caused by your pregnancy. 

New Parent Leave

The demands of pregnancy don’t end with the delivery of your child. You also deserve time to recover from labor and bond with your new baby. California laws grant you this time under the CFRA. Under this bill, parents of new children can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave specifically to bond with a new child. This is true regardless of gender, but it is particularly useful if you’re pregnant.

It’s important to note that CFRA leave can only be used once in a 12-month period. You are only guaranteed 12 weeks of leave total out of every twelve months. If you have multiple qualifying events, you can only take leave if you have not yet taken 12 weeks of leave in the last year.

Lactation Breaks

The California Labor Code provides specific protections for lactating people after childbirth. Your employer must provide you with the necessary breaks to allow you to pump or breastfeed. Companies may count lactation breaks as regular breaks but cannot prevent you from taking additional breaks to pump if necessary. They cannot demand a medical note regarding your need to pump. They must also provide a safe and sanitary room other than a bathroom where you can pump. Employers are not required to pay lactating workers for these additional breaks.

How to Tell If Your Employer Violated Your Rights During Your Pregnancy

Despite the laws listed above, it’s all too common for pregnant people to face discrimination and unfair treatment in the workplace. Common examples of employer pregnancy discrimination include:

  • Refusing to hire someone due to current or potential future pregnancies.
  • Failing to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant people.
  • Penalizing someone because of pregnancy-related medical conditions.
  • Refusing requests for legally mandated time off due to pregnancy-related conditions.
  • Failing to accommodate anyone who needs to perform breastfeeding or pumping activities.

If any of these situations sound familiar, your employer may be violating your rights. 

Standing Up for Your Rights as an Employee

The last thing you should have to worry about as an expecting or new parent is discrimination. If your employer is discriminating against you because of a pregnancy, get help. At Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP, our experienced employment law attorneys are prepared to advocate for you in your discrimination case. 

Your needs are our top priority. We use our in-depth understanding of state and federal employment laws to help you take a stand against workplace discrimination and achieve the best possible results in your case. Schedule your consultation today to learn more about how we can support you during your pregnancy discrimination case. 

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