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 (PDL) is a legal right for many workers. Unfortunately, in some cases, pregnant employees are unfairly denied their leave, or they are retaliated against for taking time off.
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 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 a pregnancy, even sitting at a desk for a few hours maybe unreasonably strenuous for the worker. Though, 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;
- Medical need for bed rest; and
- Any unusual medical complications.
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 disability leave, the more likely she is to receive push back 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.
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, 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.
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).
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.
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.
It is strictly illegal for employers to punish 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.
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 leaves 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.
Under California’s new Parental Leave Act (2018), all companies with at least 20 employees are now required to allow parents — both mothers and fathers — to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to bond with a newborn child or adopted child.
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.
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 contact our law firm today.