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5 FAQS on pregnancy discrimination in California

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg famously urged women to "lean in" at work and move into leadership positions.

That is certainly a worthy goal. Yet for many women who work in the tech industry and become pregnant, it can be hard to take the leave you are entitled to under the law. Indeed, with some employers, it can be hard to hang on to your job at all.

Here are some common questions to help make sense of your situation.

Does federal law protect against pregnancy discrimination?

Absolutely.

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) has been in place since 1978. Congress passed it as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The PDA defines discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions as sex discrimination under Title VII.

This means that if you are pregnant, the law prohibits employers from refusing to hire you just because you are pregnant or discriminating against you in terms of pay, working conditions, layoffs or firing, or any other aspect of employment.

Do disability protections apply to pregnancy?

Yes.

Federal law contains certain protections that require employers to make reasonable accommodations for your pregnancy. At the federal level, such accommodations are required under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

This means, for example, that if you developed gestational diabetes, your employer would have to make reasonable accommodations for it under the ACA.

What about parental leave from work?

Another federal law, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), allows employees who have worked for a specified length of time for the same employer to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid but job-protected leave upon the birth of a child.

The California counterpart of the FMLA is the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Depending on the size of your employer, you may be able to take up to 16 weeks of pregnancy disability leave (PDL) under CFRA, in addition to the 12 weeks allowed under the FMLA.

Why does size of your employer matter?

Both federal and state laws on pregnancy discrimination contain certain exemptions for very small employers. At the federal level, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) does not apply to employers with fewer than 15 employees. And the California Family Rights Act applies only to employers with 5 more employees.

Why do employers think they can get away with firing a pregnant employee?

An employer with any intelligence knows that firing a pregnant employee is inviting a lawsuit. Yet such firings happen all too often - in male-dominated tech companies and in all sorts of other industries.

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