Can I Be Fired While Pregnant?

An employee cannot be fired because she is pregnant or because she took pregnancy leave. During a pregnancy, an expecting mother is more than capable of handling various job duties and functions. Certain factors such as job stability and security may entice a woman to continue working until the last stages of her pregnancy. But it is not uncommon for an employee who is pregnant to feel stress and strain at work or need time off to avoid jeopardizing her health or the health of the baby. In this post, I discuss frequent issues faced by expecting or new mothers who are mistreated at work because of their pregnancy.

Pregnancy Discrimination

Pregnancy discrimination can take many forms. It is illegal for a California employer with five or more employees to fire, demote, refuse to promote, reduce pay or hours of, write up, suspend, exclude from company meetings or events, or insult an employee because of pregnancy. It is also illegal for an employer—or any other person—to harass an employee because of pregnancy. In other words, an employee may file a lawsuit against even a supervisor or another individual who harasses the employee while she is pregnant or is on pregnancy, or maternity, leave.

Pregnancy discrimination can also occur at any time. For example, an employee working at a coffee shop in Anaheim may be illegally fired as soon as she reports the pregnancy to her manager. An executive working at an office in Brea may be illegally demoted when she returns to work after a pregnancy leave. An accountant in Downey may be illegally denied an accommodation she needs for her pregnancy.

Although the law is designed to protect against mistreatment of employees, thousands of discrimination and harassment lawsuits are filed each year in Orange County Superior Court of California in Santa Ana, Los Angeles County Superior Court of California, and other Superior Courts throughout California. Pregnancy and pregnancy-disability, referred to as “protected classes,” are among the most common bases for employees’ claims. According to a report by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) in 2020, approximately 28% of employment complaints filed with the DFEH in 2018 were based on disability, such as pregnancy-related disability, and approximately 12% of the employment complaints in 2018 were based on sex and gender.

What are my Employment Rights if I Become Pregnant? – Protection for Pregnant Employees

Employees might mistakenly think that their employer’s policies and procedures take precedent over state and federal pregnancy and disability laws. Or they might think that they can only seek protection under one law and not others. This is simply not true. The state and federal laws work in conjunction to provide expansive protections to employees.

Two significant statutory protections provided under California law are Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDLL) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).

The PDLL provides up to four months of leave per pregnancy for an employee with a pregnancy disability. Pregnancy disability has a broad definition. The meaning of “disabled by pregnancy” includes that in the opinion of a health care provider, the employee is unable to perform her job without undue risk to herself or to her pregnancy’s successful completion; she is suffering from severe morning sickness; or she needs to take time off for bed rest, childbirth, loss or end of pregnancy, or recovery from childbirth.

Employees are eligible for leave under PDLL regardless of their length of employment with the employer, so long as the employer has five or more employees.

The CFRA also provides up to 12 workweeks (or 60 working days for full-time employees) of leave due to birth or personal serious health conditions.

Critically, both the PDLL and CFRA provide “reinstatement rights.” That is, absent some exception (such as a mass layoffs within the company), if an expecting mother takes maternity leave under the PDLL or CFRA, it is illegal for the employer to fire her. The employee is entitled to the same or comparable position when she returns from leave.

Pregnancy discrimination is a violation of the law, including the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and its federal counterpart, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Employees who are discriminated against may be entitled to legal relief, including money damages and reinstatement of their job. If you are the victim of pregnancy discrimination or harassment or were wrongfully terminated because you took maternity leave, please contact Orange County pregnancy law attorney Yashdeep “Jesse” Singh to schedule a free consultation.

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