How to Get Reasonable Accommodation for Your Pregnancy at Work
Pregnancy is a major physical condition. Some people may continue to do their jobs without much interference from their pregnancy, but others may experience challenges completing their job duties. This is especially true for pregnant workers who have physically demanding jobs.
Pregnancy discrimination at work is illegal under both federal and California laws – such as, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA), and the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). There are a number of complex labor laws in California that work together to provide rights and protections to pregnant employees.
But these laws don’t just shield workers from illegal discrimination. They also give pregnant workers extra rights in the workplace. If you request it, your employer must work with you to offer reasonable accommodations to make your job easier while you’re pregnant.
If you ask your employer for a reasonable accommodation for your pregnancy, that is not an optional request but your legal right as an employee. Your company should immediately start an interactive process of finding an accommodation that addresses your needs.
If your company fails to provide accommodations for your pregnancy-related condition, you could file a legal claim or lawsuit for pregnancy discrimination. But first, you should speak to a pregnancy discrimination lawyer about the best path forward for your case.Does Your Job Have to Accommodate You if You’re Pregnant?
Yes. Companies in California with even five employees are required by law to provide certain reasonable workplace accommodations for their pregnant workers. If your employer refuses or fails to accommodate you in this way, you could hold them legally liable in court for damages.
What does the reasonable accommodation process look like?
- Your employer is not required to guess your needs. You must be proactive in communicating to your employer that you need a pregnancy accommodation.
- Your company must include you in an interactive process that takes your personal needs and your input and preferences into account.
- The law does not require that your employer give you the exact accommodation that you requested so long as they gave you a solution that’s comparable.
- While your company cannot ask you personal questions about your medical condition, your employer canask for a doctor’s note confirming your accommodation needs.
You can also ask for an accommodation for any other pregnancy-related condition, such as anemia, morning sickness, leg swelling, sciatica, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, or prenatal or postpartum depression. The law covers workers who are pregnant or have just given birth.
So what are some examples of reasonable accommodations for pregnancy?Examples of Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers
Your employer cannot deny a reasonable accommodation request just because providing it might be inconvenient or more expensive for the company.
A company can only refuse an accommodation if implementing it would be difficult or expensive enough to create “undue hardship.” Still, even in such a case, your company should be willing to compromise on an alternative solution that would work without the hardship.1. Reducing Your Physical Work (Lighter Duty)
Most doctors advise their pregnant patients not to engage in heavy labor, such as lifting anything that may be heave or prolonged standing. This helps protect both the health of the mother and the developing child. So what are you supposed to do if you get pregnant but your job duties mostly involve heavy labor?
Companies that fall under the ADA, PDA, or FEHA must treat pregnant employees the same way they would treat temporarily disabled employees whose condition affects their ability to work.
For example, if you work for a company that gives disabled employees the option to do light duty work instead of their usual responsibilities, the same option should also be available for pregnant workers. That could mean changing job tasks.
Light duty allows you to temporarily focus on less physically demanding job assignments and still show up to work. However, your employer should never pressure you into choosing light duty instead of taking your legally protected pregnancy or medical leave.2. Allowing You to Work Seated or Remotely
It’s not easy carrying around a second person growing in your belly. Even the simplest tasks can become extremely difficult when your body is under the stress of pregnancy. If you normally complete your job duties standing, you can request a seat as an accommodation. Simply being able to sit can alleviate discomfort from many pregnancy symptoms.
Other small changes that could make a big difference include the ability to keep food or drinks in your work area or taking long breaks even if they wouldn’t otherwise be allowed.
And in some cases, big adjustments can make all the difference in the world. If you’re able to complete your job remotely from homewithout creating hardship for your company, you can ask to go remote – even if your company doesn’t normally have a remote work policy. This can help pregnant workers manage morning sickness or other symptoms requiring bed rest.3. Providing Breastfeeding and Pumping Facilities at Work
Breastfeeding facilities are actually required under federal law for all companies covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as well as under state law in California. These laws protect the right of employees to have a private area for breastfeeding, lactating, or pumping that is not a bathroom.
Additionally, you’re allowed to take a reasonable amount of time as a paid break to lactate, pump, or breastfeed. You do not have to clock out unless you need extra time.4. Schedule Adjustments for Medical Appointments
Pregnancy requires a lot of doctor’s visits, both prenatal and post-partum. If you work during regular business hours, you may be unable to find an appointment outside of your job schedule.
Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, your company must allow you to adjust your schedule so that you can get the medical attention you need for a healthy pregnancy. That could mean reducing or modifying your work hours without losing your job position.5. Taking Your Legally Protected Medical Leave
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) guarantees unpaid medical leave for any pregnancy-related conditions.
Certain leave laws in California impose strict time limitations on how long the pregnancy leave can be. For example, an employee working for a company in Santa Ana, California who develops a pregnancy-related disability may be entitled to up to four months of job-protected leave. But a pregnancy leave needed as a reasonable accommodation may extend beyond that time. It can depend on your disability and your job duties – whatever is “reasonable” considering your circumstances, so long as it doesn’t create hardship for your company.
Under the ADA and PDL, you can take leave all at once (such as a week or two off work completely) or in small increments spread out over days, weeks, or months.
Your company may also be covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), which allows employees who are pregnant or who just gave birth to take as much as 12 weeks of unpaid leave. This time away from the office is legally protected – you are guaranteed to keep your job or a comparable position for when you return to work.
California has additional family and medical leave benefits, including the Paid Family Leave (PFL) program for employees to bond with their children in the months after their birth.
It’s illegal for your company to pressure you into not taking your legally protected leave. It's also illegal for your employer to retaliate against you or fire you for taking leave from work.
Workplace accommodations can help ease some of the burdens of your pregnancy and protect the health of both yourself and your child. You shouldn’t lose your job or suffer at work because of a physical condition that temporarily limits your abilities. If your company refuses or fails to give you the accommodations you deserve, you should talk to a pregnancy discrimination lawyer as soon as possible about your legal options.