Pregnant employees face some unique challenges in the workplace.
Sadly, pregnancy discrimination — despite being strictly prohibited by both federal and state labor regulations — remains a serious problem.
According to data provided by the National Partnership for Women and Families, approximately 7,000 pregnancy discrimination claims are filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) every year.
Of course, the true scope of the problem is almost certainly far worse — like many other types of workplace misconduct, pregnancy discrimination is chronically underreported.
In many ways, our state is at the forefront of protecting worker rights. In California, many pregnant workers have the right to take disability leave to deal with certain physical and mental effects of pregnancy.
In California, Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDL) is a legal right for many workers. However, the PDL does not protect pregnant workers for simply being pregnant. Two requirements must be met for coverage under the PDL:
- A pregnant woman must be incapacitated as a result of the pregnancy by a covered condition such as severe morning sickness, doctor-prescribed bed rest, prenatal care, childbirth, or childbirth recovery; and
- The employer must be subject to the PDL.
Employers subject to the PDL include all public employers and most private employers with five or more employees.
When these requirements are met, the California pregnancy disability leave law allows up to four months of leave for covered conditions.
Before you can obtain PDL benefits, a physician must determine that you are unable to perform an essential element of your job without risk to you or your child.
The PDL secures your job position while you are on leave. Despite this available coverage, many employers deny pregnant employees their leave or retaliate against them.
At Workplace Rights Law Group LLP, our Los Angeles pregnancy discrimination lawyers are committed to providing employees in California with the same sophisticated, skilled legal representation that the state’s biggest law firms offer to their wealthiest clients.
We want to make sure that all pregnant workers understand their rights under state and federal law.
Here, our legal team offers a guide to California’s pregnancy disability leave laws.
California Pregnancy Disability Leave: Explained
What Is Pregnancy ‘Disability’?
As explained by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, a pregnancy-related disability is a physical or mental condition that prevents an expecting mother from “performing essential duties of her job.”
This point deserves emphasis: pregnancy itself is not considered a disability for the purposes of California law.
In other words, proving that you are pregnant — obviously not an especially difficult thing to do — is not sufficient to prove that you are entitled to take a pregnancy disability leave.
That being said, establishing a pregnancy-related disability should certainly not be viewed as a ‘difficult’ bar to clear.
In California, a woman is ‘disabled’ by her pregnancy if, in the view of her doctor, she is unable to perform at least one of the essential functions of her position.
In the late stages of pregnancy — usually in the last few weeks — most doctors agree that expecting mothers meet California’s disability leave standard.
During that point of pregnancy, even sitting at a desk for a few hours may be unreasonably strenuous for the worker.
Pregnancy disability leave can also be granted much earlier than the days or weeks immediately preceding the scheduled due date.
Some common pregnancy-related complications that could rise to the level of disability include:
- Severe, repeated morning sickness;
- Pregnancy-related hypertension;
- Childbirth and recovery;
- Medical need for bed rest;
- Loss or end of pregnancy; and
- Any unusual medical complications.
But note that this is not an exhaustive list.
Essentially, PDL is available for any pregnancy-related condition that causes an employee to become disabled and unable to safely perform their job duties.
Ultimately, all pregnancy disability leave cases are unique.
Employees who are seeking disability leave should be prepared to present evidence from a doctor that establishes the existence of a disability that impairs a worker’s ability to perform essential job duties.
As a general rule, the earlier a pregnant mother applies to take pregnancy disability leave, the more likely she is to receive pushback from an employer.
In any case, medical evidence — and the doctor’s recommendations — are what matters.
Employers do not have the final say as to whether or not a worker can take job-protected time off: disabled workers have a right to take pregnancy leave.
What Do Employees Need to Do to Receive Pregnancy Disability Leave in California?
Where possible, an employee must notify their employer of their intent to take PDL.
This notice must be provided to an employer at least 30 days prior to the date upon which the employee intends to begin their leave.
An employee should also inform their employer of the estimated duration of leave they anticipate will be required.
Of course, certain situations and medical emergencies may arise that may prevent an employee from providing the requisite 30 days’ notice.
In these scenarios, an employee should nevertheless provide notice to their employer as soon as practicable.
Are All California Employers Required to Offer PDL?
Most California workers are covered by the state’s pregnancy disability leave law. However, there are some exceptions.
Companies that employ fewer than five workers are not covered by the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA).
Among other things, these small employers are not required to offer workers job-protected pregnancy disability leave.
In addition, certain religious nonprofit organizations and religious corporations are exempt from the state’s pregnancy disability leave regulations.
If you have questions about whether or not your employer is covered, please do not hesitate to contact our employment lawyers for assistance.
How Long Does Pregnancy Disability Leave Last?
Pregnancy disability leave is always issued on a case-by-case basis. The length of a worker’s disability leave time will depend on a number of different factors.
As was mentioned previously, California workers can only take pregnancy disability leave if their pregnancy prevents them from safely performing essential job duties.
In some cases, a worker may only be eligible to take pregnancy disability leave for the last two weeks of her pregnancy. In other cases, an employee may need ten weeks, or more, of disability leave.
Ultimately, the length of pregnancy disability leave must be assessed based on each employee’s unique individual needs.
Accommodations Required Upon Request
In some cases, though an employee may be affected by a pregnancy, childbirth, or another related medical condition, they may still be able to keep working in a modified or limited capacity.
If an employee requests such a reasonable accommodation so that they may continue working upon the advice of a healthcare provider, an employer must grant the request.
Examples of reasonable accommodations might include requests to transfer to a less strenuous or dangerous position due to the employee’s pregnancy or pregnancy-related medical condition.
Other Pregnancy- and Maternity-Related Protections and Benefits
Under California law, the maximum length of required job-protected pregnancy disability leave is four months.
However, pregnancy disability leave can also be combined with other types of leave.
For example, some employees may be entitled to job-protected pregnancy disability leave and then, subsequently, job-protected maternity leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).
While protection under the CFRA is not applicable to all, recent legislative changes have vastly expanded CFRA protections.
The CFRA previously covered employers who had 50 or more employees.
Effective January 1, 2021, however, the CFRA now applies to employers with 5 or more employees. This means that a significantly larger number of employers must now comply with PDLL in California, providing many more employees with much-needed protections.
Additionally, a worker seeking protection under the CFRA must satisfy the following conditions:
- Worked for their employer for at least one year; and
- Worked at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months prior to their leave.
If these requirements are satisfied, you are entitled to healthcare coverage by your employer. However, you are responsible to pay the premiums on your insurance coverage.
Also, if you’re still disabled after four months, you may be entitled to extended leave under the disability accommodation rules under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act or the Americans With Disabilities Act.
California also provides additional coverage under the Short-Term Disability Insurance (SDI) program. If you are unable to work due to physical and mental injuries, including pregnancy, the SDI provides partial wage replacement. To apply for SDI benefits, you must have a disability defined under the plan. Additionally, you must be under the ongoing care of a physician. It’s important to apply for benefits under SDI promptly.
If you have any questions about taking pregnancy/maternity leave, especially when using them in conjunction, our employment attorneys are available to help.
Pregnant Workers Should Be Automatically Reinstated
Under California law, employees have the right to be reinstated at their previous position after taking pregnancy disability leave. In many cases, women are worried about exercising their right to take leave because they have concerns that they will be punished for doing so. Fortunately, pregnancy disability leave law seeks to prevent this.
It is strictly illegal for employers to punish a female employee — in any manner — for getting pregnant or for taking pregnancy disability leave. Indeed, when disability leave comes to an end, the worker should be immediately reinstated at her previous position and salary level.
The exception to this rule is in a situation in which the employee’s position is being terminated for reasons wholly unrelated to their pregnancy and their decision to take leave. An example would be mass layoffs that affect employees all throughout a company.
Unfortunately, in far too many cases, employers attempt to conceal their retaliation against pregnant workers.
They use pre-textual reasoning to claim that a ‘restructuring’ or ‘downsizing’ was the true reason a worker was not reinstated after taking leave. If you took pregnancy disability leave and you were terminated or laid off, you need to call a California pregnancy discrimination attorney immediately.
Your rights may have been violated.
New Mothers (and Fathers) May Also Be Eligible to Take Family and Bonding Time Leave
Under California state law, many workers have the right to take family bonding time leave for up to 12 weeks following the birth of a child.
This right is not merely restricted to mothers: new fathers may also be eligible to take family and bonding time leave after the birth of a child. California has a paternity leave law.
Paternity leave law is complex. Fathers are eligible for paternity leave coverage under the following laws:
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA);
- The California Family Rights Act (CFRA); and
- The New Parent Leave Act.
Maternity leave can be taken after a pregnancy disability leave. Despite what some workers are falsely told, taking pregnancy disability leave does not reduce the amount of time that is available for maternity leave.
While pregnancy disability leave and maternity leave are obviously related, they are also two distinct types of leave that are granted under different state laws.
Pregnancy Disability Leave California 2018: More Workers are Eligible for Family Leave
In 2018, California made considerable reforms to the state’s parental leave rules. While the pregnancy disability rules have not changed, California granted family leaves to many more employees. Under federal law (Family and Medical Leave Act or FMLA), only employers with 50 or more workers are covered. This left huge gaps in the system.
The New Parent Leave Act took effect to fill those gaps. Qualifying employees may take up to twelve weeks paid leave to care for a new child. The law applies to natural, adoptive, and foster parents. The New Parent Leave Act applies to employers with more than twenty employees. Employees must satisfy the following requirements:
- Must have worked for employer for at least one year; and
- Must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the twelve months prior to the leave.
Under the Act, employees keep their health coverage and return to their same positions when the twelve-week period ends.
The Act was passed to allow for new parents to bond with their new child. This bonding time applies after a woman takes her pregnancy disability leave. Pregnancy disability leave does not reduce a worker’s access to maternity leave.
Once again, this bonding time left can be taken after a woman has already taken her pregnancy disability leave. Pregnancy disability leave does not reduce a worker’s access to maternity leave.
Important Updates for Employees in 2021 Under California Law
As discussed above, the CFRA was recently amended to apply to employers with 5 or more employees, compared to the previous 50 or more employee requirement. However, this was not the only change. While not all related to California PDL, other important updates for employees to take note of include:
- Expansion of circumstances for which employees may take CFRA leave;
- Expansion of the types of family members employees may take leave to care for; and
- Removal of certain limitations on the amount of leave that may be taken by parents working for the same employer.
If you have questions about these CFRA changes and how they might affect you generally or your PDL rights specifically, Workplace Rights Law Group LLP is happy to help.
What to Do If Your Pregnancy Disability Leave Rights Were Violated in California
For expecting families, navigating the California pregnancy disability leave process can be confusing and frustrating.
While that is certainly not always the case — there are absolutely employers that are willing to help their pregnant workers prepare for and take their disability leave — there are also too many companies that willfully violate worker rights.
If you believe that you or your family member was unlawfully denied pregnancy disability leave, you should consult with a Los Angeles pregnancy discrimination lawyer right away.
Similarly, if you or your spouse took pregnancy leave and you were not immediately reinstated, or if you suffered any other type of adverse employment action, you should speak to a Los Angeles retaliation attorney immediately.
Get Help From a California Pregnancy Discrimination Attorney Today
At Workplace Rights Law Group LLP, our Los Angeles employment lawyers have extensive experience handling the full range of pregnancy discrimination claims. We are proud to be aggressive advocates for employees in California.
If you or your loved one was the victim of pregnancy discrimination, our legal team can help. To set up a free, no obligation review of your employment law case, please do not hesitate to call our law firm at (818) 844-5200 or send us a message today.