In California, pregnant workers are protected from discrimination and entitled to reasonable accommodations, but employers may not always follow these laws.
For many women, working while pregnant is a necessity. Unfortunately, many of these women may face workplace discrimination on the basis of their pregnancies. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which was passed over 35 years ago, provides extensive protection against this unfair treatment. Sadly, though, pregnancy discrimination remains a widespread issue.
In 2012, The Washington Post reported that pregnancy discrimination claims rose 25 percent from 2005 to 2011. Over 5,700 of these claims were filed in fiscal year 2011. Various high-profile cases have more recently shown that discrimination against pregnant workers persists. This makes it imperative for pregnant employees in Los Angeles to understand their legal rights.
Protections for pregnant workers
In California, employers are prohibited from discriminating against pregnant women during hiring or at any point in their employment. Employers similarly cannot engage in harassment or discrimination against pregnant employees who request leaves.
Employers also must make reasonable efforts to accommodate pregnant workers. Essentially, employers must offer the same assistance that they provide to employees who are disabled for other medical reasons. This includes:
- Providing any reasonable accommodations that the employee requests based on the advice of a medical professional. Employees may request accommodations relating to pregnancy, childbirth or health conditions associated with either.
- Allowing a disability leave of four months. If employees with other disabilities receive longer leaves, pregnant employees must also be offered longer leaves.
- Accommodating reduced working capacity or intermittent absences. Employers may transfer a pregnant employee to another position based on these factors. However, the employee must be qualified for the new position, and the position must offer comparable pay and benefits.
- Providing ongoing health insurance coverage. Any employer that offers group health insurance must continue making that insurance available to pregnant workers who are on leave.
Employers also are required to reinstate employees to their prior positions when they return from pregnancy leave. If this is impossible, employers must find positions that are as close to equivalent as possible. These positions should be comparable to the original position in terms of pay, responsibilities and room for advancement.
Unfortunately, despite these provisions, many pregnant women still face unfair treatment, from harassment to wrongful termination. A pending California lawsuit reveals how problematic this form of discrimination still can be.
Illegal employment practices
Two California workers recently filed a lawsuit against a grocery chain based in Sacramento. Both women were refused accommodations when they reported their pregnancies to their employers. The lawsuit holds that the chain should have provided these women with the same accommodations that it provides to other disabled employees.
One woman showed her employer a doctor's note stating that she shouldn't lift more than 10 pounds. The woman worked in a bakery and only had two job duties that this restriction prevented her from performing. However, the woman's employer told her that she must take an unpaid leave because the store did not accommodate pregnancies.
The second woman was also denied accommodations. The woman could not lift heavy weights, and she asked to wear a mask to reduce her morning sickness. She was informed that if she did not go onto unpaid leave, she would be let go. The woman opted to take the leave and maintain her employment.
Legal recourse may be available to pregnant workers and other victims of wrongful workplace discrimination. These employees may be entitled to compensation and other damages. However, proving that discrimination or harassment has occurred may be difficult in some cases. Consequently, employees may benefit from speaking to an employment law attorney for advice on their rights and potential next steps.
Keywords: pregnancy, discrimination, employee