Having a child can be a rewarding experience and a joyous occasion for most families. Pregnancy is a part of living, and it occurs all of the time. It can also lead to newfound responsibilities. Because of this, women face unique problems when it comes to their job or their career. Having a child could, unfortunately, affect how their employers treat expectant mothers. This is unfair. A woman should not have to worry about the status of her employment while wanting to have a child. There are a number of different laws and acts that protect a pregnant woman’s right to work; however, this form of discrimination is still ongoing.
Pregnancy discrimination, unfortunately, does occur regularly within workspaces. Sometimes employers believe pregnant employees to be more of a liability. There are many occasions in which an employer may choose not to hire a potential employee due to a pregnancy, or even not promote them because they believe that having a child will make the employee unfocused. However, this is simply not the case.
At Stop Unpaid Wages, we specialize in employment discrimination and other types of unfair practices that may occur to you in a work setting. You should not have to worry about discrimination on your job. Also, you should not have to worry about the status of your employment should you decide that you want to start a family. However, if you are, we can help you. We aim to help workers in the state of California and to ensure their rights are respected.
Pregnancy Discrimination Laws
As an employee, you have rights. There are laws both nationally and in the state of California that are written out to ensure that these rights as guaranteed for all workers.
In the United States, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, discrimination based upon an individual’s pregnancy is simply prohibited. As an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this act added language that made it illegal to discriminate against an employee on the basis of sex, this including pregnancy, childbirth, and any other related medical condition. This means that women who become pregnant are to be treated equally to other employees in the benefits they received, their pay, and in all other ways. In other words, discrimination against a pregnant woman is illegal.
In the state of California, there are even more laws when it comes to pregnancy. Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, there are clear guidelines that employers must follow when an employee becomes pregnant. Special protections include:
- Reasonable accommodations
- Transfer to a less hazardous or strenuous position
- Up to four months of maternity leave
- Return to regular job
- A reasonable amount of break time and space for breastfeeding
As an employee in California, these are protections laid out to ensure that pregnant women receive fair treatment in their work environment.
In California, the Fair Employment and Housing Act is another type of law that is meant to protect workers from discrimination while on the job. Under this act, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any employee based upon their age, race, gender, gender identity, sexual identification, religion, veteran status, or any other type of non-performance affecting factor—this includes pregnancy. This can mean that an employer did not hire, terminated, demoted, denied benefits, reduced pay, or any sort of similar action based upon these factors.
If such an incident does occur, the employee has the right to file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. From this point on, there will be an investigation in the situation and possible legal consequences for the employer.
In other words, it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against a pregnant woman, or to affect her job status solely on the basis of her pregnancy. These laws are put in place to ensure this right is protected.
What Does It Mean?
Pregnancy discrimination in any form is illegal in, not only, California, but nationally as well. Discrimination, in these cases, means that a woman was:
- Not hired,
- Denied maternity leave,
- Not promoted,
- Not giving adequate accommodations, or
- Not allowed to return to work due to a pregnancy.
This is similar to other forms of discrimination that may occur; however, here it can be applied to pregnant women. Sex discrimination includes discrimination based upon pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical condition.
Pregnancy discrimination does not necessarily indicate an employer or supervisor does not like pregnant women. While this may be true in some cases, pregnancy discrimination applies to situations in which a woman’s pregnancy determines an employer’s actions, like firing, hiring, and more.
- Cynthia has just become pregnant. She applies for a promotion at her company’s office. The employer interviews her and lets her know that the position is hers. However, once Cynthia lets the company know about her pregnancy, they take back the offer.
- Liza has just on maternity leave to give birth and to stay home with her newborn. The company she works for decides to terminate her during this period.
These examples illustrate ways in which pregnancy discrimination may occur in the workplace. Often times, employers believe that pregnancy will get in the way of productivity or severely distract the woman from her job. However, a woman has the right to start a family of her own and to have the career of her own as well.
As written under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), all employers must provide reasonable accommodations to a pregnant employee. Accommodations may be similar to those that an employee with a disability or serious health condition. When a woman becomes pregnant, she may find that doing simple tasks become more strenuous or that she cannot handle her normal routine. Pregnant women have medical restrictions meant to promote a healthy pregnancy. This is why an employer must be flexible with their pregnant employees.
It is important to know that pregnancy itself is not considered to be a disability. It may become so if the pregnancy leads to a serious medical issue. If this is the case, your employer must provide certain accommodations. However, there are certain medical restrictions that may arise due to a pregnancy, childbirth, or any other related medical condition. If an employee is temporarily unable to perform their duties due to her pregnancy, then the employer must treat them as they would with an employee with a disability.
Possible accommodations may vary depending on the type of job and position that the woman has; however, they may include:
- Altering the job duties,
- Altering shift hours,
- Providing leave,
- Moving the work area, and/or
- Providing certain mechanical or technical aides.
Other possible accommodation may be made depending on each employee’s personal needs. This can include more access to food and water, more break time, a stool or chair to sit on, no heavy lifting, and hours to correspond with morning-sickness and doctor appointments. Also, after giving birth, accommodation must still be given depending on the mothers’ state. This can include providing a lactation room or space for breastfeeding.
All of these accommodations are meant to alleviate any hardship that a woman may face when she becomes pregnant. Again, certain accommodations are determined on the type of job and position that the pregnant woman has. Also, they may be determined by any medical conditions and their severity.
One of the most important accommodations that employer must make is pregnancy or maternity leave. This is usually the period in which an employee takes time off for medical reasons relating to their pregnancy. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as well as the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), an employer must provide up to twelve (12) weeks of unpaid time off. This is only applied to employees who have work with the employer for at least one year. It is during this period in which families can take care of medical issues and caretaking responsibilities. Possible reasons for the leave period may include:
- Prenatal care,
- Inability to work for medical reasons (such as sickness or bed-rest),
- Serious medical issues due to pregnancy, and
- Parental leave.
If an employee suffers from a serious medical condition or ailment stemming from the pregnancy or childbirth, they may receive up to five (5) months unpaid time off on pregnancy disability leave. Both types of leave may be combined if the employee is eligible.
Also, if the employee regularly receives benefits from her employer, then these benefits must continue during this period.
In California, an employer is obligated to provide these accommodations to a pregnant employee. It is their responsibility to be aware of the employee’s needs and restrictions due to a pregnancy. If not, a complaint may be filed against them for pregnancy discrimination and they could potentially face a lawsuit.
Another important topic when it comes to pregnancy is health and medical insurance. If an employer provides health insurance to its employees, then that insurance must include coverage for expenses for pregnancy-related medical conditions equal those of other medical expenses. Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, this is required; however, it does not include abortions (unless there is a threat to the mother’s health).
The expenses for a pregnancy-related condition should be treated the same as other kinds of medical conditions. This includes reimbursement. Also, the amount payable should equal those of other types of conditions. An additional or larger deductible may not be included.
If an employer denies these benefits to a pregnant employee, then he or she is in violated of state and federal laws regarding pregnancy discrimination. In the end, an employer should take good care of a pregnant employee while also making sure they are given the same treatment as other employees.
There are situations in which harassment may occur to employees who become pregnant. This can make for an uncomfortable and unwelcoming work environment. Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, harassment towards a pregnant employee is also considered to be unlawful behavior, and this is applicable to any employer, supervisor, or co-worker.
As with any form of harassment, pregnancy-based harassment usually involves any verbal, physical, or written behavior that is offensive or derogatory towards the victim. Often times, for most legal cases, the behavior is severe and continuous. For the victim, harassment can make for a hostile work environment, and can make them so uncomfortable they decide to quit.
Pregnancy-base harassment is harassment that is specifically based upon the victim’s pregnancy and/or gender. This may include, but is not limited to, making fun of the pregnant woman’s appearance and their weight, unwanted touching, and joking about lactation and/or anything related to the pregnancy. Most of the time, a single incident is not enough for a case. Harassment needs to be serious in nature and severely affect the victim. (Note: there does not have to be any physical pain or damage for a harassment charge.)
Workplace discrimination problems can result in more unlawful behavior on the behalf of an employer or co-worker. Along with pregnancy discrimination, there are other unlawful types of workplace behavior that may be added to the discrimination complaint. Other illegal activities may occur when a woman is faced with pregnancy discrimination. This can include wrongful termination and employer retaliation cases.
Wrongful termination is, as its name suggests, termination based upon unlawful motives. Unlawful termination indicates that an employer fired an employee as a means of discrimination. This can include age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, and other non-performance affecting factors. In this case, this can include pregnancy discrimination.
- Sara tells her employer that is pregnant and will need to take maternity leave. While she is on leave, Sara’s employer informs her that she has been terminated.
The example above is considered to be wrongful termination since an employer cannot terminate an employee while on maternity leave for no real reason. This can be understood as pregnancy discrimination and is a basis for a wrongful termination case.
With a wrongful termination complaint, it is crucial to know that this does not mean your employer has fired you for “no reason” at all. The termination needs to have been based on prohibited types of behavior.
Employer retaliation usually occurs when an employee sends in a complaint or starts a suit against their employer. Often times, the complaint can stem from sexual harassment or any type of discrimination. Because of the severe nature of these complaints, an employer may retaliate, or take revenge, against the employee who had taken action.
Retaliation in the workplace may include but is not limited to termination, demotion, reduced pay, reduced hours, and creating a hostile work environment. An employer may create a hostile work environment by allowing the victim to be harassed while working and doing nothing about it. In these situations, the employer may be pressuring the employee to quit on their own.
- Jessica sent in a pregnancy discrimination complaint about her employer. Once the employer was notified, he fired her.
This is a form of employer retaliation which may become another lawsuit for the employer on top of any other one that has been started.
Steps to Take If Faced with Discrimination
If you are dealing with any form of discrimination as described above, you should be aware of some crucial steps that you should take.
When it comes to discrimination and harassment in the workplace, you should always notify your supervisor or employer as soon as possible. It is their duty to ensure that you are comfortable and welcomed, and they must assist you in any type of issue you may have. Of course, if your supervisor or employer does nothing, or refuses to do anything, to help you with the issue, then you may proceed to send in a complaint to the proper agency. This is also where you may have to receive help from a qualified lawyer to ensure that you follow all of the proper steps.
In California, you send in a complaint to the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) if you feel that your employer has violated discrimination laws. You may also file a complaint about your employer with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission which is a federal department. Usually, you must file the complaint within a year of the actual incident in order for it to be valid. Once your complaint has been filed and reviewed, an investigation will be started to determine the severity of the case and whether a mediation meeting will be necessary between an employer and the victim. Should the meeting fail to reach an agreement, the victim may proceed to take the case to court with a lawsuit.
The investigation process may be skipped if you ask the DFEH or the EEOC for a ‘right-to-sue' letter. This indicates that all obligations have been meant to file the charge with the agency. With the EEOC letter, you have ninety (9) days to file the lawsuit. With a DFEH letter, you have up to one (1) year to file the lawsuit. Also, if your employer has violated either the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), then you may take your case to court without going through an agency.
Compensation for Damages
By filing a lawsuit against an employer for pregnancy discrimination, you intend to receive anything you may have lost due to their actions. This may include any lost pay, benefits, or, even, your job. If you win your pregnancy discrimination lawsuit or any other type of discrimination lawsuit, you may receive proper compensation for any damages, or losses, that resulted from your employer’s unlawful actions. Common forms of compensation for these cases include:
- Front pay or back pay,
- Lost benefits,
- Out-of-pocket losses,
- Attorney fees and any court costs,
- Damages for pain and suffering, and/or
- Punitive damages for your employer.
Of course, what type and the amount of compensation are dependent upon the circumstances of each case. For example, front pay may be received if you cannot be reinstated into your former position and cannot fill a new job right away. Also, punitive damages are intended to punish the employer for actions that intentionally seek to violate state or federal laws or actions that are very much serious in nature.
When it comes to damages amount, it can vary. For back pay, it depends on the amount you have lost. However, with pain and suffering damages, out-of-pocket-losses, and punitive damages, there are limits. The limits can range from $50,000 to $300,000 depending on the size of the company. However, under the DFEHA, there may not be any limits at all.
Finding a Pregnancy Discrimination Lawyer Near Me
Employers may sometimes make their decisions based on assumptions about pregnancy. They may believe that a pregnant employee is too much of a hassle and will hinder productivity. Yet, employees should not have to suffer. It is unfair for employers to treat pregnant women like this in their workplace.
Sometimes, workers feel powerless against their employers, even if they feel that they have been unlawfully discriminated against. This may even be worse for employees who are pregnant. No one should have to worry about the stability of their job, especially if they decide on starting a family of their own. This is simply not fair. Having a child should not affect your career and it should not affect your pay.
At Stop Unpaid Wages, we can help you with any form of discrimination case, especially pregnancy discrimination. We believe that employers should respect your rights as an employee. Our lawyers can provide assistance to clients across California. If you feel that you have been discriminated against based upon your pregnancy, contact our offices today at 424-781-8411. You should not be alone if you are dealing with any of these situations. With a team of highly qualified and experienced lawyers at your side, you can rest assured that your rights will be respected and that your needs are met in your workplace.