What the Law Says About Pregnancy Discrimination

The California Pregnancy Discrimination Act and  Fair Housing and Employment Act prohibit any form of pregnancy discrimination. These laws provide for the recovery of lost income and benefits as well as legal fees and costs incurred as a result of pregnancy discrimination. 

Here’s how to identify pregnancy discrimination and what kind of accommodations to expect from your employer.  

Forms of pregnancy discrimination under California law

Pregnancy discrimination takes place whenever an employer treats a female worker unfavorably due to pregnancy, pregnancy-related health issues, childbirth, maternity leave, or plans to conceive.

Pregnancy discrimination can take on various forms such as:

  • Refusal to hire pregnant applicants
  • Termination of employment
  • Failure to promote qualified employee due to pregnancy
  • Failure of the employer to provide accommodations or adequate leave for legitimate pregnancy-related medical conditions
  • Demotion from current role 
  • Refusal to provide bonuses and benefits

Workplace accommodations for expecting workers in California

Workers may be unable to perform all aspects or duties of their role due to their pregnancy. Some of the most common pregnancy-related medical conditions include preeclampsia, morning sickness, hypertension, gestational diabetes, and postpartum depression. 

For instance, a pregnant woman may be unable to stand or sit for long periods of time as well as lift heavy objects. They may also need to take frequent or longer restroom breaks. 

California laws require companies to make reasonable accommodations to help pregnant workers fulfill their duties, including:

  • Temporary modification of duties or job reassignment
  • Shift or schedule modifications (i.e. telecommuting, flexible hours)
  • Assistance with physically strenuous tasks
  • Frequent rest or bathroom breaks
  • Modifications to work equipment and machinery
  • Provision of chairs, stools, and ergonomic office furniture
  • Leave of absence 

Employers must engage pregnant workers in dialogue to determine which workplace accommodations are necessary and appropriate for the situation. However, employers are entitled to medical justification before providing workplace accommodations. Workers may need to secure a doctor’s note stating that workplace accommodations are medically necessary. 

Other laws that protect the welfare of pregnant workers

California is also one of the few states with a Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) law. The Pregnancy Disability Leave Act applies to all workers regardless of tenure as long as the company has employed five or more workers. However, the law exempts employees working for nonprofits and religious organizations.

Under the law, eligible employees can take up to four months off work. You can take pregnancy disability leave if you suffer from any pregnancy-related disability that makes you unable to perform essential job functions, or if performing your work duties can put you or your pregnancy at risk. 

However, your employer can require you to obtain a medical certificate from a licensed healthcare provider.  Healthcare providers typically certify work leave of up to four weeks before, and six weeks, after a normal delivery. They will also certify up to eight weeks’ leave following a C-section

As already mentioned, the maximum leave for PDL is four months, including any period of pregnancy disability certified by a healthcare provider before or after giving birth. Keep in mind that employers are not required to pay you during PDL. They may also require you to use up any remaining sick leave during PDL though you may use vacation leave during the four-month period to receive some compensation.  

You may be eligible for State Disability Insurance (SDI) while on PDL and while on medical leave under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act (FMLA-CFRA). 

To be eligible for medical leave under  FMLA-CFRA, you must meet the following requirements:

  • A minimum of 1,250 hours of work in the year before your request for medical leave,
  • You have been employed for at least 12 months within the last five years
  • You work within 75 miles of 49 other employees who work for the same company

This medical leave is a job-protected leave that allows you to return to the same or at least comparable role after your leave ends, unless your position gets eliminated for professional reasons that are not related to your medical leave. 

You may also qualify for paid family leave for bonding with a newborn child.

When to seek legal counsel

Pregnant workers may encounter retaliatory behavior from employers when requesting workplace accommodations. For example, the employer might fire, demote, or reduce a pregnant worker’s compensation and benefits. Any form of retaliatory action is prohibited under California and Federal laws. If you have been on the receiving end of these actions from an employer in the state, you can seek legal remedies to recover lost income or expenses incurred. 

Get legal assistance from a discrimination attorney in San Diego

If your employer has retaliated or refused to make reasonable accommodations to help you fulfill your work duties, you can seek help from Hogue & Belong Attorneys at Law. Contact the team 619.238.4720 or send them an email at to determine the best course of action.

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