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Pregnancy Discrimination and the Law

Both federal law and California state law prohibit employers from discriminating against a woman because she is pregnant or suffering from a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 (Title VII) and California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) view discrimination against an employee on the basis of pregnancy or pregnancy-related medical conditions as a form of sex discrimination.

EEOC-Amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1965

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 views pregnancy as a temporary disability and as such, requires that the employee receive the same treatment as any employee with a temporary disability , for example, offering the same medical and fringe benefits as the employer would provide for any other employee with a similar ability or inability to work.

In addition to protection against discrimination, there are California laws that provide for time off due to complications resulting from pregnancy or childbirth. Under California law, an employer must provide any reasonable accommodation for pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions as long as the request is based on the advice of the employee’s health care provider. Such requests as changing her break schedule to allow for more bathroom visits or rearranging scheduled days off to allow for more frequent rest away from the work place would be considered reasonable accommodations.

Pregnancy discrimination may include one or more of the following:

  • Refusing to hire a job applicant who is pregnant
  • Firing or demoting a pregnant employee
  • Refusing to allow an employee who is disabled due to complications related to pregnancy the option to transfer to less strenuous work when she has been advised to do so by her doctor
  • Treating a pregnant employee differently from how the employer treats other employees with temporary disabilities
  • Retaliatory acts by the employer against the pregnant employee
  • Harassment of the pregnant employee
  • Denying her reinstatement to the position she held prior to the disability or to a similar position when she returns to work after pregnancy leave or leave due to pregnancy related medical conditions
  • Firing an employee for taking the leave entitled to her by law
  • Denying group health insurance during the four months the employee is on pregnancy leave.

SB 299 (Evans) (Stats. 2011, ch. 510)

Family Medical Leave Act and California Pregnancy Disability Leave Law

Unlike the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires an employee to have worked at least 1250 hours in the twelve months preceding the leave, the Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDLL) does not require a minimum length of time on the job. PDLL allows up to four months of leave concurrent with the FMLA, while FMLA allows only twelve weeks. Under PDLL, employers with five or more employees must allow up to four months pregnancy disability leave for complications resulting in disability due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions.

While federal law does not mandate that the employer accommodate an employee disabled by pregnancy or related health conditions, California Government Code § 12945 specifies that if the employee’s medical provider deems it necessary, the employer must reassign the employee to work that is less strenuous for the length of time she is disabled if such work is available. Once her medical provider lifts the restriction, the employee may resume her normal duties. When the employee returns, the employer should reinstate her to her previous position or a similar one if the previous position was eliminated or filled due to the needs of the business. PDLL prevents employers from mandating that employees use their accrued vacation or sick time, however the employee may choose to do so. In addition to FMLA and PDLL, the California Family Rights Act allows time off to bond with the baby as distinct from the family and disability leave allowed under FMLA and PDLL.

If an employee suffers a disabling condition because of pregnancy, the California Employment Development Department (EDD) may pay temporary disability payments.

If you think you have experienced discrimination because of pregnancy, file a formal charge of pregnancy discrimination with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing

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