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Legal protections against pregnancy discrimination in California

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If you are having a baby, congratulations! Pregnancy is an experience like no other. While you plan for a new baby, we hope that you do not have to deal with pregnancy discrimination at work.

Unfortunately, many supervisors, managers and executives across California discriminate against their female employees because they are pregnant or sought their rightful maternity leave after giving birth. No woman's career should suffer because of pregnancy, but it happens. Women get fired, demoted, or denied job opportunities they otherwise deserve simply because they are having a baby.

A worsening problem for women

Though laws protecting pregnant women from employment discrimination have been on the books for years, it doesn't look this like this problem is going away. In fact, it might be getting worse. An article in Fortune Magazine cites statistics from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission showing that the agency (along with its state and local equivalents) received more than 3,900 pregnancy discrimination claims in fiscal year 1997. In fiscal year 2013, there were more than 5,300 such complaints.

Losing your job or not getting a job offer because of pregnancy obviously has a dramatic impact on your career and your household income. Even more subtle discrimination or harassment can impact your life by creating a toxic work environment or holding back your career path.

Why does pregnancy discrimination happen?

Just why companies do this depends on the individual manager. Often, employers resent their legal obligations to provide paid pregnancy and maternity leave, along with health insurance to pregnant women. Sexist beliefs about mothers' ability to pursue their careers while raising kids may also be a factor.

Your rights as a pregnant worker

It's vital that you know your rights, whether you are currently pregnant or are planning on becoming pregnant soon. Here is a summary of your rights as an employee in California, as provided by the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing:

  • Protection against termination, harassment, failure to hire or other forms of discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition.
  • Reasonable accommodations from your employer, if needed, to allow you to continue working while pregnant. Examples include modification of work duties and longer breaks.
  • Access to pregnancy disability leave (PDL), which can last up to four months under California law, if you require it due to health complications.
  • In many cases, the right to 12 weeks of maternity leave.

Sometimes, an employer will pressure a pregnant worker to take PDL instead of providing reasonable accommodations. Denying reasonable accommodations this way is against the law.

How do I know if I was a victim of discrimination?

Workplace discrimination is often subtle. You may suspect that you have been discriminated against or harassed because of your pregnancy, but you may not be sure where the line is between legal and illegal behavior.

The best way for you to learn if you have a legal course of action is to consult with an employment law attorney. Your lawyer will interview you, explain how the law applies to your situation, and advise you on your legal options.

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