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pregnancy discrimination

What is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act?

Table of Contents for Specific Topics

In 1978, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act updated Title VII of the Civil Rights act to include women who are pregnant as a protected class. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against people who are pregnant or may become pregnant at any point in an employment relationship. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Hiring
  • Pay Rate
  • Benefits
  • Assignments
  • Training
  • Scheduling
  • Promotions
  • Demotions
  • Layoffs
  • Termination


Employers may not ask prospective employees about their pregnancy status or plans in an application or job interview. Employers are also not permitted to place a significant burden on employees who are pregnant or treat them differently from their coworkers. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against employees for becoming pregnant by cutting their hours, demoting them, or taking any other form of adverse employment action against them.

These protections also include employees who are trying to become pregnant as well as those who have recently lost a pregnancy. Federal law covers employers with at least 15 employees while California law covers employers with at least 5 employees. California law also protects against harassment based on pregnancy even if there is only 1 employee.

Pregnancy Rights

Women who are pregnant, planning for a pregnancy, or have recently lost a pregnancy are all entitled to some inalienable rights due to their protected status.


Pregnancy Discrimination & Temporary Disability

There are occasions where a pregnancy, or complications due to a pregnancy or childbirth, may result in the employee becoming disabled. In these situations, the employer must approach the situation as they would any other employee with any other type of disability. Any kind of leave or accommodation should be provided according to usual company practice, which should be in line with the rules and regulations set out by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This applies not only to temporary medical complications, but also long term or permanent disabilities that may occur. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has resources available online to help employees and employers alike understand what qualifies as a protected disability under the ADA.


Pregnancy Discrimination & Harassment

One common type of discriminatory behavior against pregnant women is harassment. When an employee is harassed constantly or severely, it can create a hostile work environment that hinders the pregnant employee’s ability to perform their job and can even result in adverse employment actions that have a tangible negative impact on their livelihood. Sometimes, harassment is so pervasive or extreme that the workplace becomes intolerable, and the pregnant employee has no choice but to quit. Workplace harassment may come from management, peers, or even third parties such as venders and clients. It is illegal to harass an employee regarding:

  • Pregnancy
  • Miscarriage
  • Childbirth
  • Breastfeeding
  • Related Medical Conditions


Pregnancy, Maternity, & Parental Leave

When an employee submits a request for pregnancy related disability leave, the employer must handle that request as they would any other type of disability. They may not require additional paperwork or add extra steps to the process. This also means that any paperwork required of any employee requesting disability leave, such as documents from a doctor may be required of someone requesting pregnancy related disability leave.

There is additional leave that employees may request when they become a parent as well. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take leave for up to 12 weeks if they meet certain qualifications. The employer should have at least 50 employees and the employee should have been working there for at least a year. The state of California also has additional laws with their own regulations that provide pregnancy and parental leave to employees such as:

  • California New Parent Leave Act
  • California Family Rights Act
  • California Pregnancy Disability Leave Law
  • California Paid Disability and Family Leave


Pregnancy & Workplace Laws

In addition to the right to take time off work, employees who are pregnant or have recently given birth have other rights and protections under the law. When an employee returns from leave, they must be reinstated to their previous position. If there is a legitimate and valid reason why they cannot, they must be given a position of equal work, status, and pay. Employees who have recently given birth also have the right to take breaks for the purpose of pumping breast milk. They must also be provided with a private area separate from the bathroom in which to do so. The room must contain somewhere to sit, somewhere to put equipment, and a power source. Lactating employees are not required to provide any additional documentation from their doctor to request these breaks.


Pregnancy Workplace Accommodations

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers with at least 15 employees are prohibited from discriminating against employees with disabilities. This includes employees who are temporarily or permanently disabled due to pregnancy or childbirth. Protections under this law for employees with pregnancy related disabilities include:

  • Employees can not be fired, demoted, or denied promotion
  • Employees can not be harassed or otherwise discriminated against
  • Employees must be granted reasonable accommodations

California laws that protect against pregnancy related discrimination apply to employers with at least 5 employees. Protections under these laws for employees with pregnancy related disabilities include:

  • Employees must be granted reasonable accommodations
  • Employees must be granted pregnancy disability leave when eligible
  • Employees on pregnancy disability leave must be able to keep their health insurance
  • Employees who return from pregnancy disability leave must be reinstated to their previous position

Employees covered by these laws are entitled to reasonable accommodations that do not cause undue hardship to the employer. When requesting accommodation at work, the employee should notify their employer in writing of the accommodation they need. The employer may require confirmation from a doctor, but they are not entitled to detailed medical information. There are many different kinds of reasonable accommodations that an employee may need due to pregnancy or childbirth related disabilities, such as:

  • Reassignment to light duty
  • Permission to work from home
  • Modified or assistive equipment
  • Assistance with certain tasks
  • Modified schedule
  • Extra or longer breaks
  • Lactation breaks
  • Extra days off
  • Increased protections against COVID-19


Always Request Accommodations in Writing

When engaging in a protected action in the workplace, it is always good to have a paper trail. Some employers may not respect the rights of their employees, so it is important to be able to prove what was said and when. Accommodation requests should be in writing, clearly explaining that accommodation is needed for the pregnancy or pregnancy recovery and sent via email. This way, if the employer takes adverse action against the employee, they cannot deny having received the request, and the employee can show the timeline of events that support the claim that the actions were retaliatory against their request.


Accommodations Can Include Light Duty, Transfer, or Modified Schedule

There are many different reasons why an employee may need accommodation during or after a pregnancy, and many different types of accommodations that can be provided.

Light Duty – This may be necessary when an employee works in a position that involves strenuous activity such as heavy lifting, standing or walking for hours at a time, or even just high levels of stress. Being put on light duty could mean being given assistance with certain tasks, being exempt from certain tasks, or even temporary reassignment.

Transfer – If a position cannot be modified to be made less strenuous, then it may be necessary to transfer the employee to a different position altogether. Someone whose entire job consists of excessive walking and heavy lifting may need to be reassigned to a desk job. It is important that if the employee is reassigned, the new position should be as equal as possible to their original position in status and pay.

Modified Schedule – Some disabilities do not impact an employee’s ability to perform their tasks and duties but do require them to take extra breaks or work fewer hours. Some employees may also need extra days off for frequent doctor’s appointments. Employees who return to work after giving birth may also need to take extra breaks for lactation.


You Cannot Be Forced to Take Leave if You Can Work with Reasonable Accommodations

Many pregnant employees prefer to work as long as possible before giving birth. There are many reasons for this such as extending the time off available to them after the baby is born. These employees sometimes require accommodation in order to perform their job fully and efficiently. Some employers prefer to have these employees go on leave instead of providing accommodations for them. However, it is illegal for an employer to force an employee who is able to work with reasonable accommodations to go on leave.


Your Doctor Is the Key to Obtaining Reasonable Accommodations

If an employee requests accommodations for a disability, the employer is permitted to require them to provide a note from their doctor confirming that it is necessary. The employer is not entitled to detailed private medical information, but the note should be clear and specific. Some information that should be provided from the doctor for a pregnancy related accommodation request includes:

  • Confirmation that the employee has a medical condition due to pregnancy or childbirth
  • Detailed limitations such as weight restrictions, break intervals, and amount of time spent standing, walking, and working
  • Confirmation that the accommodation will allow the employee to be able to do their job
  • Length of time that the accommodation will be needed

These notes can be beneficial for the employee in the event that the employer tries to deny or revoke their accommodation. Doctors can also provide updated notes later on to increase or decrease restrictions or extend the length of time needed.


Your Employer Cannot Retaliate for Requesting Accommodations

Requesting workplace accommodation due to pregnancy or childbirth is a legally protected activity. As such, it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for doing so. If an employee makes such a request, the employer is prohibited from taking adverse employment action such as:

  • Demotions
  • Denying promotions
  • Pay cuts
  • Schedule cuts
  • Benefit reduction
  • Write-ups
  • Suspensions
  • Forced leave
  • Termination


Call Mesriani Law Group Today if You Have Suffered Pregnancy Discrimination

There are many laws and regulations on both a federal and state level that protect pregnancy rights at work and prohibit discrimination due to pregnancy and related medical conditions. Unfortunately, not all employers are willing to adhere to the law and sometimes they violate the rights of their employees. Facing workplace discrimination or retaliation for taking leave can add undue stress and hardship to a time when the employee should be focusing on their health and the health of their child. An employment attorney can help alleviate that stress and guide you through the process of taking legal action against your employer. Our firm is dedicated to fighting for our clients to win them the compensation they deserve. If you have been discriminated against or retaliated against at work due to pregnancy or childbirth, call Mesriani Law Group today for a free consultation.


Pregnancy Rights FAQs

What does the pregnancy discrimination act cover?

The 1978 federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act protects against pregnancy discrimination in the workplace and applies to employers who have at least 15 employees. It covers all aspects of pregnancy including childbirth or related medical conditions and disabilities. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against an employee for becoming pregnant, requesting pregnancy disability accommodations, or taking FLMA leave for the birth of a child. The act applies to every aspect of employment such as hiring decisions, compensation, promotions, disciplinary actions, and termination.

Who does the pregnancy discrimination act protect?

If an employer has 15 or more employees, those employees are protected under the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act. In the state of California, additional protections apply to those whose employers have 5 or more employees as well as protections that cover all employees. These laws also apply to job applicants who are denied employment based on pregnancy. The law protects people who are pregnant, may become pregnant, or have recently given birth, lost a pregnancy, or ended a pregnancy. This includes any temporary or permanent disabilities or medical conditions related to pregnancy.

How do you prove pregnancy discrimination?

The best way to prove anything is to have hard evidence. Make requests and complaints in writing and keep copies of all paperwork, doctor’s notes, emails, and text messages. If someone can prove that their employer treated them differently from the other employees due to pregnancy or pregnancy related conditions, they may have a viable claim for discrimination. This includes situations where employers have different standards or procedures for pregnancy related disabilities than they do for any other type of disability. An employer might grant accommodations in accordance with the law, but if they require pregnant employees to provide additional paperwork or agree to conditions that they do not require for other accommodation requests, they may still be guilty of discrimination.

What are the elements of pregnancy discrimination?

Pregnancy discrimination occurs when an employee is treated differently than their coworkers or is subjected to adverse employment action for reasons related to pregnancy. Examples of this can include:

• Asking job applicants if they are pregnant or plan to become pregnant soon
• Switching a pregnant worker to part-time to avoid paying for health insurance
• Denying a promotion to a qualified employee because they just had a baby
• Demoting an employee for having an abortion
• Requiring extra doctor’s notes and paperwork for pregnancy related accommodations
• Denying sick leave for an employee recovering from a miscarriage
• Terminating an employee for taking maternity leave
• Refusing to hire or promote people who may become pregnant for certain positions
• Refusing to allow or provide accommodations for lactation breaks
• Not properly reinstating an employee coming back from pregnancy related leave

About the Author
Picture of Rodney Mesriani
Rodney Mesriani

Rodney Mesriani is the principal partner of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica based Mesriani Law Group. He specializes in personal injury and employment law while also being an accomplished litigator and trial attorney. Rodney is an aggressive negotiator and a well-known and respected attorney in the areas of practice he specializes in.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State University Northridge before attending Southwestern School of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. While being an accomplished personal injury and employment lawyer, Rodney Mesriani has made it a point to attend numerous State Sponsored MCLE events and seminars over the years as a law practitioner to be informed of the latest laws and litigation strategies.



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