What Does Pregnancy Discrimination Look Like at Work?

A recent survey revealed that approximately 1 in 5 women in the U.S. have experienced some form of pregnancy discrimination at work, and 1 in 4 women have considered quitting their jobs due to a lack of pregnancy accommodations and fear of discrimination.

From demoting a pregnant employee without cause or denying reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, many California employers knowingly or otherwise discriminate against expectant mothers-to-be in the workplace, making it all the more important for pregnant employees to understand their rights and assert them when needed. Sadly, pregnancy discrimination can be costly to working moms in more ways than one.

Left unaddressed, these discriminatory behaviors can result in financial losses, stress, emotional trauma, and poor overall health. In some cases, expectant mothers can even lose their jobs. To make matters worse, pregnancy discrimination is one of many hurdles that employed mothers-to-be face in the workplace, as issues like the gender pay gap and sexual harassment can also threaten their economic stability and put their unborn babies at risk.

Keep reading to learn more about pregnancy discrimination in California.

Pregnancy Discrimination Laws in California

In California, pregnancy discrimination is illegal under various state and federal laws, including:

The California Fair Employment & Housing Act (FEHA)

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). This law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of pregnancy or pregnancy-related conditions, including:

  • Contraception
  • Past pregnancy
  • Current pregnancy
  • Potential pregnancy
  • Breastfeeding and lactation
  • Having or not having an abortion

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

Under The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), California employers are legally obligated to provide pregnant employees with reasonable accommodations upon request, such as additional restroom breaks, providing time off for medical appointments, and permitting flexible or modified work schedules when needed.

Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) Law

In California, the Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) law requires employers with five or more employees to provide up to four months of unpaid leave for workers who are unable to perform their regular duties due to pregnancy or a pregnancy-related disability. This leave can be taken intermittently throughout the year or consecutively during the employee’s maternity leave.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Lastly, the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also prohibits employment discrimination based on sex and/or pregnancy status. Under this federal law, employers must treat all employees fairly and give equal employment opportunities regardless of sex, pregnancy, and pregnancy-related conditions.

If an employer violates federal or state anti-discrimination laws, employees can take legal action by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or taking their case directly to court. It’s imperative for employees to seek strong representation from an experienced employment lawyer who can help fight to obtain a favorable outcome in court.

5 Examples of Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace

Pregnant employees who are discriminated against at work can miss out on more than job opportunities—they often suffer from financial losses as well, such as unpaid wages. Working moms-to-be who experience sex or pregnancy discrimination, sexual harassment, or other unfair treatment toward women in the workplace can develop depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders stemming from these behaviors. Should their employer decide to retaliate, the situation can escalate to inflict further harm.

From refusing to hire pregnant applicants to denying reasonable accommodation requests, there are many ways that pregnancy discrimination can manifest in the workplace. Consider these 5 common examples of pregnancy discrimination in California:

  1. Refusal to Hire – Employers cannot legally refuse to hire an employee due to pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition. This includes any pre-employment questions regarding pregnancy or plans to become pregnant in the future. Such inquiries are considered illegal and discriminatory against workers.
  2. Demotion or Termination – Employers are prohibited from demoting or firing pregnant employees due to pregnancy status or any reason related to their pregnancy, such as taking maternity leave or requesting reasonable accommodations for health reasons. The law also prohibits employers from treating pregnant employees differently than other employees, such as assigning them more difficult tasks than their colleagues or denying them promotions solely based on their pregnancy status or related condition.
  3. Denial of Accommodations – Under ADA regulations, California employers must provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees when necessary due to health issues related to the pregnancy, such as additional bathroom breaks or modified work schedules. If an employer refuses these requests without good cause, this is a violation under FEHA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  4. Denial of Leave – An employer may not deny a pregnant employee's request for family leave or disability benefits provided under state and/or federal law (including the Pregnancy Disability Leave Law). An employer who denies these rights could face significant legal liability if they fail to comply with applicable regulations and laws protecting workers’ rights during and after their pregnancies.
  5. Retaliation – It’s illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who has experienced pregnancy discrimination in any way--whether verbally, physically, or economically (such as reducing hours without providing compensation). Such retaliation could lead to physical harm if an employer chooses to threaten the employee with violence or take other drastic measures in response to their complaint about discrimination or harassment due to their pregnancy status.

Passionately Protecting the Rights of California Workers

Sadly, employment discrimination on the basis of sex, pregnancy, or pregnancy-related conditions is not uncommon in California. While workers affected by pregnancy—whether it be past, current, or future—have strong legal protections against pregnancy discrimination, it isn’t enough to stop companies from discriminating against working moms and moms-to-be altogether.

At Polaris Law Group, LLP, our accomplished legal advocates exclusively practice employment law, making them well-equipped to represent workers in a wide range of employment law disputes. If you’ve experienced unfair treatment at the hands of a boss, company, or coworker based on pregnancy or a pregnancy-related condition, it's critical to consult with a trusted employment law attorney who can fiercely protect your rights and restore your safety and security in the workplace.

Our compassionate Monterey County lawyers have over 25 years of experience representing wronged employees in a variety of workplace disputes. From unpaid wages to FMLA violations, our firm has a proven track record of success in court and a longstanding reputation for taking on complex cases that other attorneys turn down, giving us an edge in the courtroom. If your employee rights were violated in California, turn to a team that will relentlessly pursue the justice you deserve.

No one deserves to be mistreated at work. Turn to a trusted employment law attorney who can fight for the justice you deserve. Call (888) 796-4010 to schedule a free consultation.

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