Pregnancy Discrimination Laws in California

Even when you are thrilled to be expecting a child and look forward to giving birth, you may have some concerns about how to approach the issue with your employer. Your joy may be overshadowed by your fear that your employer may respond to your happy news by reducing your pay, firing you, making it difficult to work, refusing to grant a leave of absence or trying to force you to quit.

Fortunately, California law protects you against these types of conduct if you are the victim of pregnancy discrimination.

While you should discuss your particular questions and circumstances with a skilled pregnancy discrimination lawyer in California, learning some answers to the more common questions may be useful.

What are the Pregnancy Discrimination Laws in California?

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee or job candidate on account of that person’s:

  • Race or ethnicity;
  • Religion;
  • Color;
  • National origin;
  • Physical or mental disability;
  • Marital status;
  • Gender identity;
  • Age;
  • Sexual orientation;
  • Sex;
  • Medical condition; or,
  • Other factors as described in the statute.

While pregnancy is not specifically listed, the FEHA defines “sex” discrimination to encompass and include discrimination and mistreatment on account of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and any related medical conditions.

How Does California Law Protect a Pregnant Person?

There are three primary types of protections for pregnant workers under the FEHA:

  1. Discrimination: Your employer cannot discriminate against you on the basis of pregnancy.  This covers a wide range of acts that may be improper. Refusing to hire or promote you, reducing your pay, modifying your work assignments, harassment, intimidation, and termination are all types of misconduct may rise to the level of illegal discrimination.
  2. Reasonable Accommodation: At the same time, an employer must also affirmatively make reasonable accommodations for women with pregnancy-related health conditions. This may mean allowing flexible hours, working from home, modifying work assignments, excusing tardiness caused by morning sickness, and similar allowances. There are limitations to this, of course, where such accommodations would cause an undue hardship or expense.
  3. Leaves of Absence: Women may take pregnancy-related disability leaves either before or after childbirth or bonding leave to care for, spend time and bond with a newborn. (Fathers can take this bonding leave, too!)  In these types of case, the law protects you in most cases where your time off is reasonable, within the statutory limits, and respectful of appropriate documentation rules, and will guarantee your same or similar job back when you’re ready to return to work.

Do I Have to Tell Employers I’m Pregnant?

The FEHA protects you, whether you are an existing employee or just an applicant, as long as your particular circumstances fall within the scope of the statutory rights and obligations. If you’re pregnant, it is your choice whether to tell your current or prospective employer in advance about your pregnancy, and it is illegal for them to ask if for no reason if you are pregnant or plan to have children. However, some practical considerations may be important to keep in mind:

  • If you are not showing, there is less reason to tell a prospective employer about your pregnancy. But at some point, your pregnancy is going to start to show. It’s not something you can usually hide until the last minute.
  • If there are accommodations you anticipate you’ll want your employer to make for your pregnancy, keep in mind that some accommodations may take time to put into place. So, the sooner you advise your employer of when you may actually need those accommodations, the less likely it may be that timely implementing them will cause your employer an undue hardship.
  • If your employer has a human resources officer or department they are often a useful resource for properly navigating your company’s policies and your own rights and obligations. Don’t be afraid to ask about your rights.

How Can I File a Claim?

If you think you’ve been the victim of pregnancy discrimination, you have the option of filing an administrative claim with a government agency. Both the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) handle claims for pregnancy discrimination. They generally cooperate with one another, so you don’t usually need to file with both.  

There are differences between the two agencies in regards to the kinds of employers they address and the kinds of pregnancy-related claims they handle, so it’s usually best to get some legal help before jumping in on your own.

Also, for some types of pregnancy-related claims the law requires you to exhaust your administrative remedies before you can file a lawsuit, which means you need to first file with one of these agencies before you have the legal right to go to court.

What Remedies are Available?

If you are successful in proving pregnancy discrimination, you may be able to recover compensation for:

  • Your lost wages and benefits;
  • Your emotional distress;
  • Punitive damages, in certain cases;
  • Attorneys’ fees; and,
  • Other filing fees and court costs.

In addition, you may be able to obtain an order reinstating you to your position if you were terminated, or giving you a proper leave of absence.

Is There a Deadline for Filing a Claim of Pregnancy Discrimination?

There are strict time limits on filing a claim with either the DFEH and EEOC.

  • If you are filing a claim with the DFEH, you must submit it within one year of the date the discrimination occurred.
  • The EEOC requires you to file a claim within 300 days of the date your employer discriminated against you.

Consult with a Skilled California Employment Law Attorney About Pregnancy Discrimination

Both California and federal law protect you from numerous types of workplace discrimination and mistreatment on account of pregnancy. Because the law is complex and sometimes technical, and because unlawful discrimination can take many forms, it can be difficult to recognize if you have been the victim of something unlawful or not. Plus, the process for enforcing your rights through state and federal agencies is complicated with traps for the unwary.

The employment law team at Workplace Rights Law Group in Los Angeles, CA can assist you with challenging pregnancy discrimination questions and claims. Please call (818) 844-5200 to schedule a free consultation with an experienced employment law attorney, talk about your particular situation and learn more about your options. You can also check us out online to learn more about pregnancy discrimination, harassment, and other areas of employment law.


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