Discrimination against pregnant employees and new parents is sadly common. Many employers worry that such employees will take extended time off or not be as dedicated to their job. In fact, some employers will also discriminate against people who are trying to get pregnant or have experienced a pregnancy loss.
What is Pregnancy Discrimination?
Pregnancy discrimination is any act an employer performs that negatively affects an employee when they find out they are pregnant. Under federal law, which applies to companies with 15 or more employees, this includes:
- Firing or cutting hours
- Demoting or moving to a less well paid position.
- Asking about pregnancy or children in a job interview.
- Treating pregnancy differently from other medical conditions (for example giving light duty to an employee who was injured but not to one who is pregnant).
- Not hiring somebody because they are pregnant.
- Forcing pregnant employees onto unpaid leave when they are still able to do the job.
- Not providing healthcare benefits for pregnancy.
- Treating spouses of male employees differently from spouses of female employees.
- Not allowing somebody who takes pregnancy disability leave to return to their old job when they return.
California law also protects nursing mothers from discrimination. Another law makes harassing pregnant women illegal even for employers with a single employee. This means that your employee can’t tease or hassle you about being pregnant, and must do their best to keep your coworkers from doing so.
The law also requires that employers provide reasonable accommodations.
What are Reasonable Accommodations for New Parents and Pregnant Employees?
The general definition of reasonable accommodation is anything an employer can do to make an employee’s life easier without causing huge problems for the company. In this context, this generally includes:
- Allowing time off for doctor’s appointments
- Adjusting work schedules to allow for morning sickness
- Allowing the employee to sit down when she needs to during her shift
- Removing the employee from duties that require lifting heavy objects
- Allowing a new mother to take breaks to pump milk
- Allowing an employee to telecommute if their duties allow
- Allowing an employee to take breaks to eat if needed
- Allowing employees, especially in the later stages, to take bathroom breaks as much as they need.
Pregnancy is not considered a disability, but complications of pregnancy such as gestational diabetes and preeclampsia can be covered. This means that reasonable accommodations also need to be allowed for the disability.
You also have the right to take unpaid leave as needed and return to your previous job. The FMLA gives up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to bond with a new child, and applies to employers with 50 or more employees. California has its own family and medical leave act, which is similar but extends benefits to the children of domestic partners, and it also has the New Parent Leave Act, which requires employers with 20 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks leave for bonding with a new child. This leave has to be given to fathers as well as mothers, and to new adoptive parents.
What About Time Off to Care For Children?
Under California law, if you have paid sick leave, you can use up to half of it to care for a sick child, or to take your child to doctor’s appointments. Your employer is not required to give you extra time off to take kids to routine appointments, but if your child has a serious illness, the FMLA applies.
If you are being discriminated against because you are pregnant or have recently welcomed a new child (born or adopted), Aiman-Smith & Marcy can help. We are experienced employment law attorneys who can help you establish whether you have a case and take you through the process of filing a discrimination lawsuit against your employer or former employer.