Equality in the workforce would be impossible without proper acknowledgement and accommodations for employees who are pregnant or nursing. The inherent physical demands of the condition were long used an excuse to discriminate against these workers. Then in 1978, the federal government passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, making it illegal for employers with 15+ employees to discriminate against women because of pregnancy, childbirth, abortion, or any medical conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth. (Applicable medical conditions can include things like severe morning sickness, post-partum depression, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, pregnancy-induced hypertension, loss of a pregnancy, etc.)
Now, as our Los Angeles pregnancy discrimination lawyers want to make sure everyone’s heard about two much more recent federal protections in place for pregnant and nursing workers. These are:
The PUMP Act
Effective as of December 29, 2022, the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections for Nursing Mothers Act expands protection for breastfeeding employees. The law requires most employers to extend reasonable breaks for breastfeeding employees to express milk for their new baby. This accommodation must be granted for one full year after the birth of the child. During these breaks, the employee will not be expected to carry out any work-related duties. However, if the worker is paid hourly and does not work while pumping, the employer is not required to pay for that time.
Furthermore, the area designated for nursing employees must be private, free of intrusion – and not a bathroom.
Although the act technically applies to all employers no matter what size. However, if the employer has fewer than 50 employees, it may file for an exemption to the requirement. To prevail, the employer would have to prove that compliance would result in undue hardship for the company – and the employer would bear the burden of proof. There are also industry-specific exceptions, such as airline and railroad industries.
The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, now part of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, went into effect June 27, 2023. It’s applicable to employers with 15+ employees. It requires employers to extend reasonable accommodations in the event a pregnant employee experiences limitations as a result or related to pregnancy, childbirth, or any related medical condition. While you might be required to provide a doctor’s note, companies can only deny these requests if they can prove that granted the accommodation would result in “undue hardship.”
As recently outlined in the U.S. Supreme Court case of Groff v. DeJoy, “undue hardship” goes beyond a de minimis burden. Employers asserting undue hardship bear the burden of proving the accommodation would result in substantial increased costs and other significant impacts in the overall context of the employer’s business.
Some examples of possible accommodations a pregnant employee might seek under the PWFA:
- More breaks for resting, sitting, drinking water, eating, or using the restroom.
- Hours that are flexible to allow for conditions like morning sickness or to attend doctor’s appointments.
- Restrictions on heavy lifting.
- Designated parking that is closer to the building.
- Excuse from activities that are strenuous or compounds that are risky.
Your employer isn’t allowed to require that you accept any accommodation without talking about it with you first. They also can’t deny you opportunities you’d otherwise be entitled to simply because you are pregnant or force you to take leave (paid or otherwise) if there is any other reasonable accommodation option available that will keep you working. Retaliation for requesting a reasonable accommodation is also prohibited.
California Pregnant Worker Protections
These new federal protections are in addition to California pregnant worker protections that were already in place under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). These protections are even stronger than those provided by federal law because they apply to small employers as well as mid-sized and larger ones.
Among these protections:
- Employers with 5+ employees are entitled to reasonable accommodations for employees experiencing pregnancy, childbirth, loss of pregnancy, or a related medical condition. These reasonable accommodations can include time off work.
- Employers cannot take adverse action against a worker/prospective worker because of pregnancy, childbirth, or related condition.
- Employees who have worked for their employer for at least one year (1,250 hours in the last 12 months) are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave to bond with their new child.
- Employees who are pregnant are entitled to up to four months of unpaid leave for any period during which they are disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related condition. This leave may be taken either consecutively or intermittently. Upon return from pregnancy disability leave, employees must be returned to the position they previously held.
If you believe you have been discriminated against at work on the basis of your pregnancy or having a child, our dedicated Los Angeles employment discrimination lawyers can help.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Newport Beach, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
FAQ: Pregnancy Disability, California Civil Rights Department
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