Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Pregnancy as a Protected Characteristic under the California FEHA

For a lot of pregnant women, giving birth is something that is anticipated with such great excitement and joy. But before the time comes when they have to undergo labor and deliver the newborn, expecting mothers often face difficulties, especially those who still perform their jobs in the workplace.


Going to work while carrying a child for nine months is already hard enough, but some pregnant women often suffer workplace discrimination and harassment simply because of their condition. Even though they are entitled to leaves in order for them to give birth, they find out upon their return that they have been terminated. Indeed, such treatment proves that some employer treat pregnant employees as liabilities instead of as assets.

Pregnant employees are protected by the law

Fortunately in California, the law provides broad protections for pregnant employees against workplace discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Women employees who are pregnant, are recovering from childbirth, or have a medical condition related to their pregnancy or childbirth are protected under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Not only that, but the FEHA also provides that they should not be denied or interfered of their rights in employment.

As such, employers covered by the FEHA are entitled to exercise their obligations towards pregnant employees. These employer duties include the following:

·         Provide reasonable accommodations, particularly with regard to the medical needs of the employees (e.g. allowing them to take breaks frequently, modifying their job duties for the time being).

·         Transfer them to certain job positions wherein they can perform duties without any hazards or need to exert more physical work.

·         Provide them with PDL, or pregnancy disability leave, which can be taken up to 4 months

·         Return them to the same jobs they left before they took their PDLs or, if the same jobs are no longer available, put them in comparable jobs.

·         Allow them to use a room or any other location near their respective work areas for them to express breast milk in private.

Pregnant women and their obligations

Apart from the obligations set forth by the law for employers, pregnant employees should also be aware of their own duties. As it is, they should be able to provide their employers notices in case they need to be reasonably accommodate, have themselves transferred to less strenuous jobs, or take leaves of absences through PDL. This must be done 30 days in advance; otherwise, they may do so as soon as it is deemed practicable or if the need is unforeseeable or due to emergency. Also, because employers often require written medical certification from the health care provider, it is imperative for pregnant employees to provide it, especially when asking for a reasonable accommodation, a transfer, or PDL.

Meanwhile, it is also an obligation of pregnant employees to file claims against their employers who either discriminate or harass them for their condition or failed to provide reasonable accommodations or PDL. To do this, they may submit their claims with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or they may seek the expertise of a Los Angeles employment discrimination lawyer.