Pregnancy Discrimination in the California Workplace
EEOC attorneys describe the pregnancy discrimination cases they litigate as showing some of the most overt discrimination of any other discrimination cases. Pregnancy discrimination is present in virtually every part of the country and in every industry. Consider the following statistics:
- Seventy-five percent of all women entering the U.S. workforce will, at some point during their employment, become pregnant;
- The vast majority of pregnant women are in the workforce;
- In 2011, in every state in the U.S., the majority of women who gave birth were employed;
- Despite the above statistics, the number of pregnancy discrimination lawsuits has increased by 35 percent over the past ten years;
- One-fifth of all EEOC discrimination charges are filed for pregnancy discrimination;
- Although reasonable accommodations would allow most pregnant women to work through their pregnancy with few alterations in their workload, many pregnant workers are forced out of their job;
- Pregnancy discrimination in the workplace leads to significant economic harm to millions of pregnant women annually, with low-income and single mothers being hit the hardest;
- The responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers has been a California law since 2000;
- The pregnancy-related accommodations sought in the state of California are by and large both modest and feasible for the employer (more bathroom breaks, no heavy lifting and sitting rather than standing for long periods of time);
- Since 2000, pregnancy discrimination lawsuits in the state of California have dropped, and
- Although pregnancy discrimination occurs in all industries, the largest number of pregnancy discrimination cases in 2013 were in the health care and social services fields, followed by retail, hotel and food service industries, administrative support and manufacturing.
Laws in California Protects Pregnant Employees
Under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, employers may not harass, demote, terminate or otherwise discriminate against any employee who becomes pregnant or who requests or takes a pregnancy leave of absence. This Act covers any employer who regularly employs five or more full-time employees or who employed five or more full-time employees in the prior year.
Under the California Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (which is a part of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act), those employers with five or more employees must provide a reasonable period of pregnancy leave to workers who find themselves disabled in some way by their pregnancy, not to exceed four months. This leave may be taken in increments, or all at once. If the employer has a policy which states temporary disability leaves are paid leave, then the pregnant employee must be paid during this leave. Otherwise, the employer is not required to pay wages to an employee taking PDLL. Accrued sick leave can be required by the employer to be used for this leave.
How Pregnancy-Related Claims Differ from Other Discrimination Cases
Sometimes the employer acts in a misguided attempt to “protect” the pregnant employees by cutting their hours, or taking away responibilites or even laying them off. In other situations, the reaction is very different; it is not uncommon for a woman to announce she is pregnant and shortly thereafter find that her job is being eliminated or that she is terminated.
The employer may wonder whether his now-pregnant employee will miss work because she does not feel well, whether the pregnancy will affect the employee’s productivity, whether the employer will find himself short-staffed, or whether the employee’s overall career plans could be changed significant after the baby is born. While these may appear to be legitimate issues for the employer to think about, under California law, the employer may not make employment decisions based on these musings.
Work Benefits Pregnant California Employees are Entitled To
There are a number of benefits pregnant employees are entitled to under California law, such as:
- Health insurance coverage for up to four months while a woman is out on pregnancy disability leave;
- Employers may require the use of accrued sick leave during the unpaid portion of pregnancy disability leave;
- A pregnant employee is eligible for pregnancy disability leave no matter how short a time she has worked for the employer;
- It is not necessary to be a full-time employee to be entitled to pregnancy disability leave benefits;
- Pregnancy disability leave may be taken for severe bouts of morning sickness, prenatal care, bedrest ordered by the doctor, childbirth, recovery from childbirth, and any medical condition related to the pregnancy;
- Generally, the woman must be unable to perform essential job functions without risk to herself or the unborn baby in order to qualify for pregnancy disability leave;
- In the event a reduced work schedule is medically advisable for the pregnant employee, an employer may require the employee to transfer to an alternative position—however this position must pay the same and have the same benefits;
- Whenever possible, an employee taking a pregnancy disability leave must provide 30 days’ advance notice to her employer.
What to Do When Pregnancy Discrimination Occurs
If you were not hired, failed to get a promotion you were well qualified for, were denied benefits, or were fired because you were pregnant, you have experienced pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and may be eligible to file a lawsuit. In order to win a pregnancy discrimination lawsuit, however, you must be able to show you were treated differently from other employees, and the difference in treatment was directly related to your pregnancy.
The proof of the discrimination could be circumstantial, or could be overt. If your employer started treating you differently shortly after you announced your pregnancy, this could lead to an inference of discrimination. If you believe you are the victim of pregnancy discrimination in the state of California, speak to an experienced California pregnancy discrimination attorney immediately. Your attorney can help you assess the strength of your claim and, after discussing all your options, will help you decide the best way to proceed.