The main federal law protecting expecting parents is the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (“PDA”). Enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, PDA prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. Discriminatory action may come in the form of hiring (or non-hiring of an applicant), firing, demotion (or non-promotion), job re-assignment, non-allowance of fringe benefits such as leave, and any other conditions of employment. In addition, if a woman is unable to perform her job duties because of a medical condition related to her pregnancy, the employer must treat her in the same as it would treat a disabled employee. This special treatment may come in the form of reasonable accommodations such as lighter duties, less intense job assignments, disability or unpaid leave, as long as it is not a significant difficulty or expense for the employer. (For more details, please see http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/pregnancy.cfm.)
The case in front of the Supreme Court involves a former UPS driver who was forced by UPS to take unpaid leave when she was pregnant. After a doctor advised the driver that she should not lift heavy boxes, the driver asked UPS for lighter duties. However, UPS declined. A decision by the Supreme Court is expected sometime in 2015. (For more information see Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc. here http://www.oyez.org/cases/2010-2019/2014/2014_12_1226.)
California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing administers and enforces the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”). FEHA provides even stronger pregnancy-related benefits than PDA, protection against pregnancy-related discrimination, rules regarding sick/pregnancy/disability leaves, notification requirements for employers to notify employees of rights under FEHA, and rights to return to the same position that the woman had prior to taking the four month leave. (For more information about FEHA see http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Publications_StatLaws_PregDiscr.htm.)
Another law that protects expecting parents is the Family and Medical Leave Act which is enforced by the U.S. Department of Labor. It mainly provides direction on the eligibility for leave related to childbirth. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act amended the Fair Labors Standards Act giving break time for nursing mothers to express milk in the workplace. Specifically, employers are required to provide “reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for 1 year after the child’s birth each time such employee has need to express the milk,” as well as “a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk.” (See U.S. Department of Labor information here http://www.dol.gov/whd/regs/compliance/whdfs73.htm.)
Aside from abiding by the rules above, California employers are also prohibited from discriminating against or harassing an employee because of her pregnancy. Harassment may be in the form of a negative employment decision or the creation of an offensive work environment. Interestingly, the harasser does not only have to be the victim’s supervisor. The harasser may also be a co-worker or even a customer.
Therefore, California employees should remain aware of the many established rules to protect their rights when it comes to pregnancy. If they experience discrimination or any form of retaliation connected to pregnancy, they should immediately safeguard their rights by contacting our office.