San Francisco Pregnancy Discrimination Lawyer

California law provides significant protection for pregnant employees.  In addition to prohibiting discrimination or harassment on the basis of pregnancy status, California law requires an employer to allow an employee disabled by pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions to take a leave of absence and to maintain her health insurance during the leave.  It also requires the employer to provide other forms of reasonable accommodation as necessary.  (Cal. Gov’t Code §§ 12926, 12940.)  The amendments to the pregnancy discrimination regulations that took effect at the end of 2012 expanded the protections in several regards, including an expanded definition of the conditions that may render a woman “disabled by pregnancy” and the extension of protections to employees perceived as pregnant or disabled by pregnancy (even if not actually pregnant).  Indeed, there are different rights that become relevant throughout the different stages of pregnancy, including different rights to accommodation, leave, and reinstatement.  But throughout each stage of pregnancy and after delivery, an employer is not permitted to treat an employee differently because she is or was pregnant.

What is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) was enacted as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The PDA prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. Public employers, such as federal, state and local government agencies, and private employers with 15 or more employees are covered by the PDA. According to the Act, employers may not have a policy, whether written or unwritten, against hiring pregnant women. Employers may not refuse to hire a woman because she is pregnant or because she has medical conditions related to her pregnancy so long as the woman is able to perform the essential functions of the job.

If a pregnant woman becomes unable to perform the essential functions of her job, the employer is required to treat her as a temporarily disabled employee. This means the employer must make the same accommodations as it would for an employee who cannot perform some or all of his or her job functions due to a temporary disability. This may include changing some of the job functions, having the pregnant employee perform alternative functions or offering the employee paid or unpaid leave. The key is this:  employers are required to treat pregnant workers the same as other disabled employees and may not discriminate against them in any employment decisions because of the pregnancy.

EMPLOYERS SHOULD QUESTION THEIR ASSUMPTIONS—AND CANNOT RELY ON THEM

Claims relating to pregnancy differ also from other types of discrimination claims in that the assumptions an employer often makes when learning of an employee’s pregnancy may even be accurate, but entirely unlawful nevertheless.  Unlike many other forms of discrimination based on unfounded, outdated, and inaccurate beliefs about particular races, national origins, religions, etc., sometimes pregnancy discrimination and other failures to comply with California law protecting pregnant employees stems from beliefs and experiences grounded in reality.  For example, consider a manager who learns that one of his or her employees is pregnant.  After congratulating the employee, the manager thinks about how the pregnancy might impact the business.  Could the manager reasonably conclude that this employee might miss some work during her pregnancy because she does not feel well or has doctors’ visits?  Might the employee’s physical condition affect her attention and productivity (particularly during periods of morning sickness)?  Any chance that the manager might find himself or herself short-staffed because the employee takes a leave of absence?  How about after the leave?

Anyone who has been pregnant or whose spouse has been pregnant, who has a friend or family member who is or was pregnant, or who knows even the basics of pregnancy and parenting would almost certainly answer “of course” to each of these questions.  So, too, would the manager.  And each of the issues reflected in the questions creates a potential issue with which the manager may need to deal going forward.

In short, an employer might make certain conclusions and predictions upon learning of an employee’s pregnancy about the impact on its business, but, however reasonable or accurate those assumptions may seem, they do not hold true in every – or perhaps even most – cases.  For every pregnant employee who misses a lot of work due to morning sickness, doctors’ appointments, etc., far more work straight through their pregnancy with no significant effect on their attendance or productivity.  And even more importantly, California law effectively requires that an employer not act on these assumptions.

CONCLUSIONS

Pregnancy-based discrimination or harassment is illegal.  This includes failing to hire or promote you because you are pregnant, or taking any other adverse employment action against you, because you are pregnant.  If you think you may have experienced discrimination in the workplace due to your pregnancy, contact an employment lawyer experienced with pregnancy discrimination claims.