Pregnancy and becoming a mother is oftentimes a joyous occasion. Unfortunately, negative stereotypes about mothers are common in the workplace. Some believe that pregnant women may do less work and need more breaks. Others may hold a belief that mothers should be at home raising children, and that working mothers are too preoccupied to do a good job at work.
These negative stereotypes ultimately harm pregnant workers and working moms because it can lead to pregnancy discrimination, which violates state and federal laws. If you’re pregnant, you should be treated fairly and the same as all other workers. It’s a simple idea, but in practice pregnancy discrimination occurs very often.
If you think it has happened to you, the first step is to understand the anti-discrimination and maternity leave laws that protect your rights on the job. Additionally, please do not hesitate to reach out to the seasoned pregnancy discrimination attorneys at Shegerian & Associates for a free case evaluation.
Defining Pregnancy Discrimination
Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy occurs when an employee or job applicant is treated less favorably or unfairly in the workplace compared to other workers. “Unfair” employment decisions may include:
- Firing you you because you are pregnant
- Laying you off because you are pregnant
- Receiving less favorable or profitable job assignments because you are pregnant
- Being deprived training or job education that other employees received because of pregnancy
- Being passed up for a promotion you were qualified for due to pregnancy
- Being denied health insurance, health benefits, bonuses, or other benefits because you are pregnant
- Being denied meal breaks, rest breaks, sick time, or reasonable accommodations because of pregnancy
- Being denied time for doctor’s visits because of pregnancy
Employers often try to conceal their true motives by developing a cover story for pregnancy discrimination. For instance, an employer may lay off a pregnant employee but claim that the lay off is not related to pregnancy. In order to successfully prove pregnancy discrimination, the following must be shown:
- The employer had a responsibility according to pregnancy discrimination laws to act in a certain manner.
- The employer treated you unfairly or unfavorably in some way.
- The unfair treatment related to your pregnancy.
- You suffered harm as a result of this unfair treatment.
Unlawful Treatment of Pregnant Employees
California employers are generally prohibited from engaging in discriminatory practices on the basis of pregnancy. Pregnancy discrimination and unfair treatment violates both state and federal law, including:
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act
The main federal law protecting pregnant women is an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, called the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), which added pregnancy to the law’s protected classes. This law sets the rules and regulations regarding an employer’s responsibilities when one of their workers is experiencing:
- Any pregnancy-related condition or disability
This legislation is applicable to companies that have 15 or more employees. When a pregnant employee’s rights are violated under the PDA, it is considered a type of sex discrimination and employers can be held accountable, and may be found liable and required to pay damages or other types of restitution. Under this law, employees have a legal responsibility to treat pregnant women fairly and may not:
- Engage in pregnancy discrimination of any kind
- Refuse to hire pregnant workers based on personal views about the inability of pregnant women to perform job duties
- Pass over qualified pregnant women for a promotion that would otherwise be granted
- Terminate, demote, harass, or refuse to hire someone just for being pregnant
- Provide adequate accommodations to expectant mothers, when reasonable, including light duty work
- Use an employee’s pregnancy as a reason to change the health benefits or other job benefits of employees who become pregnant
California Fair Employment and Housing Act
Similarly, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is a state law that seeks to uphold the rights of pregnant workers and provides slightly more protection to pregnant women against workplace discrimination because it applies to companies with 5 or more employees. It prevents pregnant workers from being subject to:
- Discrimination on the basis of pregnancy
- Harassment from employers or co-workers
California law extends coverage to all pregnant workers, including full-time or part-time employees, permanent and temporary employees, job applicants, and unpaid interns. Additionally, the FEHA requires that employers provide pregnant employees with reasonable accommodations if pregnancy causes some type of disability. Accommodations may include:
- More frequent breaks to hydrate, take medication, or go to the bathroom
- Take time off for prenatal medical care and doctor’s appointments
- Job duty modifications that allow pregnant employees to avoid heavy lifting, working with dangerous machinery, or working in otherwise dangerous conditions
- Ergonomic equipment or furniture
- Flexible scheduling or the ability to telecommute
- Assistance with physically strenuous job duties
Reasonable accommodations may also include a period of leave if the job endangers a pregnant employee. Some types of pregnancy-related conditions that may justify a work leave include:
- Morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum
- Gestational diabetes
If you have one of these conditions or another condition that you believe may qualify you for a period of leave, it is important to note that your employer has a right to see a doctor’s note to certify your requested accommodations. Additionally, your employer has a right to participate in an “interactive process” with you and potentially your medical team to decide what accommodations make sense and are necessary.
Maternity Leave Laws
Another way that pregnancy discrimination may arise is when an employee has given birth already and needs to take off to recover and bond with her newborn. In these cases, there are four additional laws that grant maternity “leave rights” to pregnant employees and new mothers. These include:
- The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which grants up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for serious health conditions, including pregnancy-related disabilities or for baby-bonding leave. Fathers also have the right to take the same amount of unpaid leave time to care for a new baby under the FMLA. Eligibility for FMLA leave is limited to employees who have been with an employer for at least 12 months, worked over 1250 hours during the last 12 months, and work at a location where there are 50 or more employees with a radius of 75 miles.
- California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDL), which grants up to four months of unpaid leave for pregnancy-related disabilities.
- The California Family Rights Act (CFRA), which grants up to 12 weeks of baby-bonding leave.
- California State Disability Insurance (SDI) program, which provides up to four weeks of paid leave for a pregnancy-related disability and eight weeks of paid leave for baby-bonding and newborn care.
Employers sometimes make unlawful requirements concerning maternity leave, which pregnant employees can address with litigation. For instance, it is unlawful for an employer to require that a pregnant employee remain on maternity leave until the birth of her child under certain circumstances. Curtailing or extending maternity leave in response to a pregnancy is against the law in most circumstances.
Maternity leave laws dictate that certain employers must afford a pregnant employee the same type of leave as other “temporarily disabled” employees. For example, if an employer has a workplace policy that holds jobs open for workers who are temporarily disabled for a period of time, it must also hold the job open for a woman temporarily disabled due to pregnancy for the same length of time.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
Some pregnancy-related disabilities qualify for protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which for some women offers another avenue to deal with pregnancy discrimination at work. The ADA requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations at work such as shifting work schedules or providing lighter job duties.
How a Pregnancy Discrimination Attorney Can Help You
If you believe that you may be a victim of pregnancy discrimination, you should talk to an attorney right away. Your pregnancy discrimination lawyer may first take action by sending a pregnancy discrimination demand letter. This letter outlines how you feel your rights have been violated and “demands” that your employer stop certain discriminatory practices against you. You can state that, if these behaviors are stopped, you will not take the matter further.
However, you should also state that, should your employer fail to cease the discrimination immediately, then you will pursue legal action by notifying authorities and filing a civil lawsuit claiming pregnancy discrimination. These letters are typically prepared by an attorney and outline the specific facts that show you have experienced pregnancy discrimination.
Additionally, a pregnancy discrimination attorney will help you invoke your employee rights and work hard on your behalf to gather the necessary evidence to build your claim on solid ground. Depending on the situation, gathering evidence may include:
- Talking to other employees about their experiences while pregnant
- Finding out if not hiring or taking unfair actions against pregnant individuals is part of the company’s unspoken practice
- Looking for specific signs of animosity toward pregnant workers at the company
Your pregnancy discrimination lawyer will be able to keep you informed about your case from start to finish and help you make an informed decision about whether to take a settlement or proceed with a lawsuit. Damages you may receive include compensatory damages for lost wages, punitive damages, and attorneys’ fees.
There is pregnancy discrimination when an employer treats a pregnant employee unfavorably, in terms of hiring, firing, and other aspects of employment. This likewise includes treating pregnant women in the workplace based on childbirth or other medical treatment based on pregnancy. Examples of pregnancy discrimination include refusing to hire, failing to promote, demoting, or firing workers after learning they are pregnant. Discharging workers who take medical leave for pregnancy-related conditions is also a form of pregnancy discrimination.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 generally protects against pregnancy discrimination in employment. Other laws that protect pregnant employees include:
- Pregnant Workers Fairness Act
- Americans with Disabilities Act
- Family and Medical Leave Act
To learn more about the laws that protect women employees from pregnancy discrimination, consult with a pregnancy discrimination lawyer.
No. It is illegal for a California employer to fire employees because they are pregnant. Laws such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) of 1978 in the U.S. protect pregnant employees from discrimination and wrongful termination based on their pregnancy status. Without reasonable grounds and sufficient evidence for proper termination, you cannot be fired on the basis of pregnancy.
The following causes of action are covered:
- Past pregnancy
- Current pregnancy
- Birth control
- Potential pregnancy
- Medical condition related to pregnancy and/or childbirth
- Having or choosing not to have an abortion
If you believe that you have experienced pregnancy discrimination at work it is important that you contact an employment attorney as soon as possible. Make sure that you document every proof leading to pregnancy discrimination, such as responses from your management when you requested for a special accommodation. Review your company policies related to dealing with harassment and discrimination, which is often found in the handbook.
Contact Shegerian & Associates to Discuss Your Situation
Employers who willfully or negligently subvert the rights of their pregnant employees may be violating the law. Pregnant workers deserve the same treatment as all other workers, and should not be subject to prejudice within the workplace because of their expectant status.
For assistance with your particular situation, you can rely on the thorough expertise of the pregnancy discrimination lawyers at Shegerian & Associates. Our extensive knowledge of employment law is a valuable asset to employees seeking justice for any pregnancy discrimination cause.
Contact us today for a free consultation to discuss your situation and learn more about your legal rights and options under anti-discrimination and maternity leave laws.