In California, if an employee is fired from her job because she is pregnant – or if a pregnant employee is harassed or discriminated against in any way – it’s a violation of the law. You cannot be fired, harassed, discriminated against, or retaliated against by an employer because of your pregnancy. If your employment rights have been or are being violated by an employer in the San Francisco Bay Area, get advice about your options and rights by speaking with an experienced San Francisco employment rights attorney. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions – and their answers – about pregnancy and employment rights in California.

Q: How are employees protected from pregnancy discrimination?

A: Employers may not discriminate against employees or job candidates on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. Businesses also may not discriminate with respect to hiring, firing, compensation, benefits, promotions, training, or any other employment-related opportunities because an employee might be pregnant in the future. Additionally, California employers cannot make a pregnant employee take a leave of absence or a disability leave that she has not requested. Employers may be required to offer job-protected leave and reasonable workplace accommodations due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.

1

Q: Can an employer treat a pregnant employee differently from other temporarily disabled employees?

A: The answer is absolutely not. Under both state and federal laws, employers must treat pregnant employees who are temporarily unable to perform their jobs at least as well as other temporarily disabled employees. For example, if a company offers paid leave to other workers with temporary disabilities, the company must also provide paid leave to employees who become pregnant.

Q: Does the law regarding pregnancy discrimination cover all California employers?

A: Pregnancy discrimination laws govern only employers with a particular number of employees. The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act covers only employers with fifteen or more employees, and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act applies only to businesses with five or more employees, as well as all employment agencies, labor groups, licensing boards, and state and local government agencies.

California companies with five or more employees must provide job-protected disability leave for up to four months as well as reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, childbirth, and related medical conditions. However, the law in California bans any employer with even one employee from harassing an employee or a job applicant because of a pregnancy or a perceived pregnancy.

Q: Do pregnant employees have the right to a transfer or to reasonable accommodations?

A: Absolutely. In California, employers with five or more employees must make available reasonable accommodations for pregnancy, such as providing additional breaks, relief from heavy lifting, and flexible scheduling to accommodate medical appointments. Employers also must make accommodations for childbirth and lactation accommodations for mothers who are nursing.

2

California law in some cases entitles pregnant employees to transfer to a less stressful or dangerous position if the transfer can be reasonably accomplished. However, to accommodate the request for a transfer, employers are not required by law to create additional positions, lay off or terminate another employee, transfer another employee, or promote a pregnant employee to a job the employee is not qualified to do.

Q: Do pregnant employees in California have the right to a leave of absence?

A: Yes, when a California employer has five or more employees, pregnant employees are entitled to up to four months of unpaid, job-protected leave. Under federal law, pregnant employees have precisely the same rights to unpaid leave as employees who take leave for other temporary disabilities. While California requires (at least) unpaid leave, if an employer offers paid leave to other temporarily disabled employees, the same amount of paid leave must be made available to pregnant employees regardless of whether or not the pregnant employee is applying for government support, private support or education based aid.

Q: Does an employee have to take a pregnancy-related leave all at once?

A: The answer is no. A pregnancy-related leave may be taken before and/or after the delivery, in increments, or at any time that a pregnant employee is physically unable to work as certified by the employee’s healthcare provider. Employees who contribute to the California State Disability Insurance (SDI) program may receive partial wage replacement during a pregnancy disability leave.

3

Q: Can California employers make a pregnant employee take mandatory time off?

A: California employers with five or more employees cannot force a pregnant employee to take leave if she has not asked for leave. If an employee has been absent from work due to a pregnancy-related condition and returns to work, the employer cannot force the employee to stay on leave until after the delivery. An employer must allow a pregnant employee to work when she can do the job.

Q: How does the law handle the harassment of pregnant employees?

A: When workplace conduct – like harassment – creates an offensive or hostile environment or interferes with an employee’s performance, it’s illegal. It is also illegal to harass someone because she is perceived to be pregnant but isn’t. Employers are legally responsible for harassment by supervisory personnel even if the employer does not directly know about the harassment. An employer in California is also responsible for harassment by a co-worker or a third party (like a contractor or client) if the employer knew or should have known about the harassment and failed to end it immediately.

Q: What pregnancy and childbirth costs are California employers required to cover?

A: Under state law in California, a pregnant employee must be offered the same privileges and benefits provided to other workers with temporary disabilities. Group health insurance policies must provide maternity coverage to employees. Additionally, California employers must continue to provide health insurance benefits to female employees who qualify for pregnancy leave.

4

Q: What should employees who have suffered pregnancy discrimination do?

If a California employer has discriminated against you or harassed you due to your pregnancy, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission within 300 days after the first act of discrimination or harassment, or you can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing within a year after the first act of discrimination. In the Bay Area, you can also speak with a San Francisco employment rights attorney regarding the possibility of a discrimination lawsuit. California law gives employees more rights than any other state in the nation. In this state, if an employer violates your rights, the law is on your side.

By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.