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Do pregnant Californians get protection from workplace discrimination?

On Behalf of | Jul 20, 2023 | Workplace Discrimination

Pregnancy is generally an exciting time for the mother and their spouse or partner. You no doubt can’t wait to meet your new child and have so much to do to prepare.

At the same time, most expectant mothers in California work for a living. After taking maternity leave, they expect to go back to work to help support their baby and the rest of their family. But many employers discriminate against pregnant employees and new mothers. They fire, demote or otherwise punish workers when they become pregnant (usually on some flimsy pretext), refuse to provide reasonable accommodations during the pregnancy, and don’t return the worker to their old job or a reasonable equivalent when they return from parental leave.

How California law shields pregnant workers

California is one of the leading states when it comes to protecting pregnant women and new mothers from workplace discrimination. State law prohibiting sex-based discrimination has been interpreted to protect workers against pregnancy-based discrimination. This also applies to childbirth, breastfeeding and pregnancy-related health problems. California workers:

  • Can take up to four months of pregnancy disability leave and return to the same or comparable job.
  • Have their pregnancy treated as a “disability” for purposes of getting temporarily transferred to less demanding work if their employer offers such a policy.
  • Receive reasonable accommodations as needed during their pregnancy, such as a chair or more frequent breaks.
  • Are allowed break time to breastfeed after giving birth, as well as access to a private room or area to do so without intrusion.

Unfortunately, some states do not have anti-discrimination laws that protect pregnant workers to this extent. A new federal law called the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act fills in some of those gaps. It requires all employers with at least 15 employees to provide “reasonable accommodations” for a worker’s pregnancy and “related medical conditions” such as fertility treatments, postpartum depression, abortion, miscarriage and stillbirth. Meanwhile, federal law already prohibits firing or discriminating against a worker due to their pregnancy status, childbirth or a related medical condition.

If you believe you have been discriminated against at work due to pregnancy or a related condition, or if the discrimination is still happening now, you need to know your rights and how to enforce them. A conversation with an experienced employment law attorney can get the ball rolling.