• JC Serrano

Expecting Moms Can't Be Fired: Pregnancy Discrimination Laws in California

Updated: Jun 5

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Having a child can be one of the most life-changing experiences a woman can have. It can, unfortunately, hurt a woman's career. In those situations, it's important to understand what constitutes unconstitutional Pregnancy Discrimination. With the help of an Labor Law Attorney, you might be able to receive damages you are entitled to.


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When a pregnant employee or work candidate is treated unfairly because of their pregnancy, this is known as Pregnancy Discrimination. Employers with five or more workers in California are prohibited from discriminating against pregnant women. This is considered a form of sex discrimination under the law.


Discrimination against pregnant women can take many forms. In the workplace, common examples of unlawful Pregnancy Discrimination include:

  • Refusing to employ a woman who is pregnant or may become pregnant in the future

  • Getting rid of or demoting a woman because of pregnancy-related medical issues

  • Refusing to make fair accommodations for a woman's pregnancy-related conditions is a form of discrimination.

  • If a woman is legally entitled to time off for childbirth or medical problems related to childbirth, it cannot be denied.

  • Discrimination against a woman who has to breastfeed, inject, or treat medical problems associated with breastfeeding.

These and other terms are discussed in greater depth further down. Since state law is usually more favorable to workers than federal law.


The Legal Foundation


Both state and federal laws shield workers in California from Pregnancy Discrimination. The nature of the alleged harm will normally determine the applicable law.


Discrimination-Preventing Legislation


The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, which applies to employers of fifteen or more workers, forbids discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. It also states that women impacted by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions must be considered equally for all employment-related purposes, including benefit reception.


On a state level, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (known as "FEHA") offers substantial protection for pregnant women, prohibiting discrimination and abuse on the grounds of pregnancy, similar to federal law. But, unlike federal law, FEHA extends to employers with five or more employees, affecting more California businesses than federal law.


In addition to shielding pregnant workers from discrimination and abuse, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) mandates protected employers to make adequate allowances for employees who are affected by their pregnancy, which can include a length of leave that exceeds the standard statutory requirements.


Pregnancy-Related Leave is Covered by Law


Five major laws in California give pregnant workers and new mothers the ability to take time off: The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (also known as "the FMLA"), the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (also known as "FEHA"), California's Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (also known as "PDL"), the California Family Rights Act (also known as "CFRA"), and the New Parent Leave Act are all examples. Each law has its own eligibility provisions, and each law grants leave for varying periods of time and under varying conditions.

The main goal of these laws is to encourage mothers (and often fathers) to take unpaid leave to care for their new baby at home without fear of losing their work. This ensures that if an employee takes leave under one of those rules, their employer is normally required to reinstate them to the same (or a similar) position.

If an employer fires, declines to recruit or otherwise penalizes an employee because they need a period of pregnancy-related leave (or may need it in the future), the employer's acts are often viewed as illegal Pregnancy Discrimination and a breach of applicable leave laws.


Discrimination Against Pregnant Women


As previously stated, Pregnancy Discrimination occurs when an employee or work candidate is treated unfairly because they are pregnant or may become pregnant in the future. However, not all forms of pregnancy discrimination are illegal.


The employee or work candidate may have the duty of proving those facts to show that an employer participated in unfair discrimination. These facts are referred to as elements of the lawsuit. The following elements are present in cases of Pregnancy Discrimination:

  • The employer was a business that was subject to pregnancy discrimination laws.

  • The employer took a negative workplace action against the employee, such as refusing to recruit, promote, or fire him.

  • The employer's negative employment behavior was motivated by the employee's or work applicant's pregnancy, pregnancy-related impairment, or desire to become pregnant.

  • Because of the employer's negative employment behavior, the employee suffered some sort of injury.


Which Employers Could Be Held Liable?


The first step in determining if an employer has engaged in illegal Pregnancy Discrimination is to see whether California's anti-discrimination laws extend to them.


An employer will normally be held liable under California law if they fall into one of the following categories:

  • An employer is anyone or a company that hires five or more people on a regular basis.

  • An individual or company acting as an agent of a covered employer is referred to as the employer.

  • A state or local government agency is the employer.

Each of these types has significant exceptions. For these reasons, some religious nonprofit organizations and companies, for example, are not considered "employers." As a result, many of California's anti-discrimination laws do not apply to religious employers.


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It's also worth remembering that, unless they're the actual boss, bosses, managers, and coworkers are usually not directly liable for acts of discrimination or retaliation. However, employers may also be held legally accountable for the discriminatory conduct of supervisors and managers.

Finally, provisions against pregnancy-related abuse are narrower than those against discrimination in California. Supervisors, managers, and coworkers may be held legally responsible for acts including pregnancy abuse under California's prohibition on pregnancy-based harassment, which extends to employers of every size—even those of less than five employees.


Which Employees Are Protected?


California law states that discriminating against "any person" because of their pregnancy is illegal, but the acts prohibited by the law are limited to the workplace. As a result, only certain categories of employees will benefit from the state's legal protections.


There are four types of jobs in this category:

  • Employees currently hired.

  • An employee is someone who works for the employer under his or her command and control and whom the employer has chosen to hire.

  • Applicants for positions.

  • An applicant is a person who submits a written application to a company. If the employer does not have a written application form, an individual is considered an applicant if they express a desire to be considered for employment to the employer.

  • Temporary Workers (or "Temps").

  • Jobs who are recruited by an employer and assigned to work for a company are known as temp workers. In certain cases, the temp will be able to hold both the temp agency and the company they work for Pregnancy Discrimination.

  • Interns that are not charged.

  • In 2015, California law was amended to handle unpaid interns in the same way as regular workers when it came to Pregnancy Discrimination.

There are several exceptions to these categories, of course. To begin with, California's anti-discrimination laws do not apply to applicants who are underqualified. If an applicant is less eligible for a job than the individual actually chosen, the employer has the right to refuse them.


Additionally, California's anti-discrimination laws do not cover people who work for their parents, spouses, or children. Finally, while California's anti-discrimination laws do not cover independent contractors and volunteers, they are covered by the state's regulations prohibiting pregnancy-based abuse. Consider one of our prescreened California Lawyers in your California Attorney Search.


Discrimination in the Workplace


Discrimination based on an employee's pregnancy status is illegal in California, according to state law. Discrimination involves treating people differently when they are pregnant or have recently given birth, in terms of: Their pay, the terms or privileges of their jobs, their working conditions, and their job assignments are all factors to consider.


Pregnancy Discrimination is prohibited at almost all levels of jobs, including:

  • During the hiring process (or before taking applications if recruiting materials are discriminatory)

  • When it comes to promotions

  • When making raise decisions, keep this in mind

  • When deciding whether or not to lay off or fire staff, consider the following factors

  • When considering training options, deciding whether or not to allow time off, and assessing employee benefits

Additionally, if the employee becomes disabled as a result of her pregnancy or a disability related to childbirth, the employer is also forced to have suitable accommodation. This may mean that the employer is required to improve the employee's working conditions substantially.


Harassments


Employers in California are prohibited from bullying employees for being pregnant, delivering a child, or seeking pregnancy-related leave under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (known as "FEHA").

  • Employers, bosses, and coworkers are all subject to this law. ⁠ If harassment is so pervasive or serious that it produces a hostile or abusive work atmosphere, or when it results in an adverse employment decision, it is illegal.

  • Harassment of pregnant women is handled in the same way as other types of sexual harassment. Harassment can take the form of offensive or degrading physical, oral, or written conduct as long as it is motivated by the woman's sex or pregnancy. The statute, on the other hand, does not ban simple teasing or minor instances of pregnancy-related abuse.

  • Negative jokes, name-calling, derogatory remarks about the woman's weight, breastmilk, or appearance, photographs, or unwanted touching are all common examples of abuse. It can be perpetrated not only by men but also by women in the workplace.

  • Unlike traditional discrimination claims, the statute does not mandate that workers be injured or disabled in any way as a result of the offensive conduct. The harassment itself is enough to make an accusation of unlawful harassment complete.


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